Nearly 70 Children Among Dead In Syria Evacuees Bombing


Rashidin:  Nearly 70 children were among those killed when a suicide car bombing tore through buses carrying evacuees from besieged government-held towns in Syria, a monitor said on Sunday.

Saturday’s blast hit a convoy carrying residents from the northern towns of Fuaa and Kafraya as they waited at a transit point in rebel-held Rashidin, west of Aleppo.

At least 68 children were among the 126 people killed in the attack, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, updating a previous toll of 112 dead.

At least 109 of the dead were evacuees, the Britain-based monitoring group said, while the rest were aid workers and rebels guarding the convoy.

The evacuations were taking place under a deal between Syria’s regime and rebels that is also seeing residents and rebels transported out of Madaya and Zabadani, towns near Damascus which are surrounded by pro-government forces.

The agreement is the latest in a string of evacuation deals, which the government of President Bashar al-Assad says are the best way to end the violence after more than six years of civil war.

Rebels say they amount to forced relocations after years of bombardment and crippling sieges.

Body parts and the belongings of evacuees, including clothes, dishes and even televisions were still strewn at the scene of the attack on Sunday, an AFP correspondent said.

The shattered buses were nearby as was the shell of a pick-up truck , with little left but its engine block, that was apparently used to carry out the bombing.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, though the key Ahrar al-Sham rebel group denied any involvement. The government blamed ‘terrorists’, a catch-all term for its opponents.

The Observatory, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria to monitor the conflict, said hundreds of people were also wounded in the blast.

‘People Crying And Shouting’

It said a petrol station at the transit point was caught up in the explosion, adding to the number of victims.

The Syrian Red Crescent said three of its workers were among the wounded.

Maysa al-Aswad, a 30-year-old evacuee from Kafraya, said she was sitting on one of the buses with her six-month-old son Hadi and 10-year-old daughter Narjis when the blast shook the parked convoy.

“Hadi was on my lap and Narjis on a chair next to me. When the explosion happened I hugged them both and we fell to the floor,” she told AFP by telephone from near Aleppo.

“I didn’t know what was happening, all I could hear was people crying and shouting,” she said.

“All I can think about is how we survived all the death during the last few years and then could have died just after we finally escaped.”

More than 5,000 people left Fuaa and Kafraya and about 2,200 left Madaya and Zabadani on Friday, the latest in a series of evacuations from the four towns under the agreement.

The evacuation process resumed after the bombing, the Observatory said, with the residents of Fuaa and Kafraya eventually arriving in Aleppo, Syria’s second city which the government gained full control of last year.

Wounded survivors, including many children, were taken for treatment at an Aleppo hospital.

‘Monstrous, Cowardly Attack’

UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien condemned the bombing, saying in a statement, “The perpetrators of such a monstrous and cowardly attack displayed a shameless disregard for human life.”

Pope Francis on Sunday also urged an end to the war in Syria as he presided over the traditional Easter mass in Rome.

The pontiff said he hoped that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice might help bring “comfort and relief to the civil population in Syria, prey to a war that continues to sow horror and death”.

The residents and rebels from Madaya and Zabadani arrived late Saturday in rebel-held territory in Idlib province, where they were greeted with embraces and shots fired into the air.

It was not immediately clear whether further evacuations were taking place on Sunday.

The evacuation deal was brokered by Qatar, a longtime supporter of Syrian opposition forces, and Iran, a key regime ally.

Shiite-dominated Iran has repeatedly raised concerns for the residents of Fuaa and Kafraya, who are mainly Shiites and were besieged by Sunni rebels.

Syria’s war has left more than 320,000 people dead since erupting in 2011, with more than half the population forced from their homes and hundreds of thousands trapped under siege.



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Iraqi Christians Hold Easter Celebrations At A Church Damaged By ISIS


Tel Esqof, didn’t sustain same amount of damage as other Christian towns overrun by the ISIS.

TEL ESQOF:  Hundreds of Iraqi Christians gathered on Sunday in a church damaged by ISIS north of Mosul, celebrating Easter there for the first time since 2014.

“God willing, the celebration of the resurrection of Christ will also mark the return and rising-up of the Christians in Iraq,” said Kyriacos Isho, 75, who was accompanied by his 12 children and grandchildren at Mar Gewargis (St George) Chaldean Catholic church in Tel Esqof.

Tel Esqof, or Bishop’s Hill in Arabic, did not sustain the same amount of damage as other Christian towns overrun by the terrorists three years ago in the plain of Nineveh.

Kurds dislodged the hardline Sunni terrorists from Tel Esqof just a week after it had fallen, in August 2014. On Sunday, they stood guard around the church.

The terrorists had smashed the church’s windows, though a new cross has now been put up in place of the one the terrorists took down.

A fresh breeze on Sunday cooled the white chapel as the choir sang hymns in Chaldean, a language close to the Amaraic spoken by Jesus.

The mass ended with a festive distribution of soft drinks and coloured eggs in the inner courtyard by a French group, SOS Chretiens d’Orient.

ISIS targeted all non-Sunni Muslims living under its rule, and inflicted harsh punishment on Sunnis who refused to abide by its extreme interpretation of religion.

The region’s Christians were given an ultimatum, pay a tax, convert to Islam, or die by the sword. Most of them fled to the autonomous Kurdish region, across the Zab river to the east.

Not Really Home

More than 350 families returned to Tel Esqof which has been more secure since October, when US-backed Kurdish and Iraqi forces launched an offensive to dislodge the terrorists from Mosul, taking back dozens of villages and towns along the way.

For many, though, Tel Esqof is not really home, but simply a place where they feel safe in the company of relatives or friends.

Madeleine Roufael, a 70 year-old widow, is still waiting to return to Mosul, about 20 km (12 miles) to the south.

“Thank God,” she repeats, grateful to be celebrating Easter once again. “God willing, we will return home.”

Six months into the Mosul offensive, the front line in the battle has moved well into the city, with ISIS terrorists surrounded in a few districts on the western side of the Tigris river.

The terrorists there are dug in among civilians.

Several hundred thousand people are estimated to remain in areas of the city that are still under terrorist control, complicating the battle plans of the Iraqi army and the US-led coalition providing air and ground support.

It was from a Mosul mosque three years ago that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a ‘caliphate’ also spanning a part of Syria.

“I wish peace for Iraq, for Syria, for Lebanon,” said Aws Hermez, the church’s deacon, referring to countries with substantial Christian communities.

“Peace for the whole world.”

(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli, Editing by Andrew Bolton)

© Thomson Reuters 2017



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Turkey PM Declares Victory In Referendum On Expanding Erdogan Powers


The referendum will grant new sweeping powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

ANKARA:  Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on Sunday declared victory for the ‘Yes’ camp in the referendum on expanding the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying the country had opened a “new page” in its democracy.

“The presidential system, according to unofficial results, has been confirmed with a ‘Yes’ vote,” Yildirim told supporters from the balcony of the headquarters of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara. “This is a decision made by the people. In our democracy’s history, a new page has opened.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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Turkey Erdogan's Camp Claims Win In Vote To Give Him Sweeping Powers


Istanbul:  The ‘Yes’ camp in a referendum to give Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan greater powers claimed victory on Sunday but the knife-edge result left the country bitterly divided with the opposition crying foul.

Opponents fear the constitutional changes, which would grant Erdogan more power than any leader since modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his successor Ismet Inonu, would lead the country to one-man rule.

The ‘Yes’ campaign won 51.3 percent of the vote against 48.7 percent for ‘No’, the election commission said in figures quoted by state news agency Anadolu, in a count based on 99 percent of the ballot boxes.

In a nail-biting end to a frenetic campaign, the ‘No’ share of the vote climbed as more ballots were counted, after lagging well behind in the early count, but failed to overtake the ‘Yes’. 

“The presidential system, according to unofficial results, has been confirmed with a ‘Yes’ vote,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told jubilant supporters from the balcony of the headquarters of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara.

“This is a decision made by the people. In our democracy’s history, a new page has opened.”

But voting patterns showed Turkey deeply divided over the sweeping changes, with the ‘No’ vote victorious in the country’s three biggest cities.

The ‘Yes’ vote held up strongly in Erdogan’s Anatolian heartland but the Aegean and Mediterranean coastal regions and Kurdish-dominated southeast had backed the ‘No’ camp.

In a major disappointment for the president, the ‘No’ vote was just ahead in his hometown of Istanbul and in the capital Ankara and clearly ahead in the third city of Izmir.

In an interview with state TV late Friday, Erdogan had predicted a far clearer victory saying polls showed a 55-60 percent share of the vote.

‘Vote for destiny’

But Turkey’s two main opposition parties said they would challenge the results after alleged violations.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said that whatever the final result, it would challenge two-thirds of the vote, saying: “There is an indication of a 3-4 percentage point manipulation of the vote.”

The deputy head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Erdal Aksunger, said it could appeal up to 60 percent of the vote.

“Believe me, this election is not over,” he told CNN Turk, quoted by the Dogan news agency. “This is totally invalid. We are declaring this here.”

The opposition had already complained that the referendum has been conducted on unfair terms, with ‘Yes’ posters ubiquitous on the streets and opposition voices squeezed from the media.

The poll took place under a state of emergency that has seen 47,000 people arrested in an unprecedented crackdown after the failed putsch of July last year.

Closely watched on Monday will be the initial assessment of the international observer mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

‘Drastic shake-up’

Beyond changing the government system, the vote could also have even wider implications for Turkey which joined NATO in 1952 and for the last half-century has set its sights on joining the European Union.

Erdogan has warned Brussels that in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote he would sign any bill agreed by parliament to reinstate capital punishment, a move that would automatically end its EU bid.

Western reactions to the referendum outcome will be crucial after Erdogan accused Turkey’s allies of failing to show sufficient solidarity in the wake of the July 15 failed coup.

The new presidential system would dispense with the office of prime minister and centralise the entire executive bureaucracy under the president, giving Erdogan the direct power to appoint ministers.

The system would come into force after the elections in November 2019. Erdogan, who became president in 2014 after serving as premier from 2003, could then seek two more five-year terms.

Supporters see the new system as an essential modernisation step for Turkey that will remove the risk of the political chaos that blighted the 1990s and is blamed for the 2000-2001 financial crisis.

Opponents fear it risks granting Erdogan authoritarian powers and allow him to ride roughshod over key institutions like the judiciary and parliament.

Sinan Ekim and Kemal Kirisci of the Brookings Institution think-tank said in a report the changes if agreed “would set in motion the most drastic shake-up of the country’s politics and system of governance in its 94-year-long history”.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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Turkish 'Yes' Lead Narrows To 51.7 Per Cent In Final Stages Of Count


ANKARA/ISTANBUL:  Votes for constitutional change to hand President Tayyip Erdogan sweeping powers held a narrow lead with almost all ballot boxes opened on Sunday, but Turkey’s three largest cities and the mainly Kurdish southeast looked set to vote “No”.

“Yes” votes stood at 51.3 percent after 98.2 percent of ballots had been opened for counting, state-run Anadolu news agency said, though a lag between opening and counting them could see the lead tighten further in the final stages.

Erdogan called Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and the leader of the nationalist MHP party, which supported the “Yes” vote, to congratulate them, presidential sources said. They quoted Erdogan as saying the referendum result was clear.

A “Yes” vote would replace Turkey’s parliamentary democracy with an all-powerful presidency and may see Erdogan in office until at least 2029, in the most radical change to the country’s political system in its modern history.

The outcome will also shape Turkey’s strained relations with the European Union. The NATO member state has curbed the flow of migrants – mainly refugees from wars in Syria and Iraq – into the bloc but Erdogan says he may review the deal after the vote.

In Turkey’s three biggest cities – Istanbul, Izmir and the capital Ankara – the “No” camp appeared set to prevail narrowly, according to Turkish television stations.

Speaking to reporters in Ankara, Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak said that the “Yes” camp had not won as many votes as expected, but was still ahead nationwide.

Earlier in the day a crowd chanted “Recep Tayyip Erdogan” and applauded as the president shook hands and greeted people after voting in a school near his home in Istanbul. His staff handed out toys for children in the crowd.

“God willing I believe our people will decide to open the path to much more rapid development,” Erdogan said in the polling station after casting his vote.

“I believe in my people’s democratic common sense.”

The “Yes” share of the vote – which stood at 63 percent after around one quarter had been opened – eased as the count moved further west towards Istanbul and the Aegean coast. Broadcaster Haberturk said turnout was 86 percent.

The opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) said it would demand a recount of up to 60 percent of the votes, protesting against a last-minute decision by the electoral board to accept unstamped ballots as valid votes.

“We will pursue a legal battle. If the irregularities are not fixed, there will be a serious legitimacy discussion,” CHP deputy chairman Bulent Tezcan said. Another of the party’s deputy chairmen said that “illegal acts” had been carried out in favour of the government.

DIVISIVE VOTE

The referendum has bitterly divided the nation. Erdogan and his supporters say the changes are needed to amend the current constitution, written by generals following a 1980 military coup, confront the security and political challenges Turkey faces, and avoid the fragile coalition governments of the past.

“This is our opportunity to take back control of our country,” said self-employed Bayram Seker, 42, after voting “Yes” in Istanbul.

“I don’t think one-man rule is such a scary thing. Turkey has been ruled in the past by one man,” he said, referring to modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Opponents say it is a step towards greater authoritarianism in a country where some 47,000 people have been jailed pending trial and 120,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs in a crackdown following a failed coup last July, drawing criticism from Turkey’s Western allies and rights groups.

“I voted ‘No’ because I don’t want this whole country and its legislative, executive and judiciary ruled by one man. This would not make Turkey stronger or better as they claim. This would weaken our democracy,” said Hamit Yaz, 34, a ship’s captain, after voting in Istanbul.

Relations between Turkey and Europe hit a low during the referendum campaign when EU countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, barred Turkish ministers from holding rallies in support of the changes. Erdogan called the moves “Nazi acts” and said Turkey could reconsider ties with the European Union after many years of seeking EU membership.

GUARD KILLED

Kurdish militants overnight killed a guard in an attack on a vehicle carrying a district official from Yildirim’s ruling AK Party in southeast Turkey’s Van province, security sources said.

They said Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants staged the attack in Van’s Muradiye district. A second of the AKP official’s guards was wounded and 17 people were detained over the attack, they added.

In the southeastern Diyarbakir province, two people were killed and one wounded in a gunfight in a village schoolyard which was being used as a polling station, other security sources said. The cause of the clash was not immediately clear.

On Saturday, Erdogan held four rallies in Istanbul, urging supporters to turn out in large numbers and saying it “will be a turning point for Turkey’s political history”.

Erdogan and the AK Party enjoyed a disproportionate share of media coverage in the buildup to the vote, overshadowing the secular main opposition CHP and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu has accused Erdogan of seeking a “one-man regime”, and said the proposed changes would put the country in danger.

Proponents of the reform argue that it would end the current “two-headed system” in which both the president and parliament are directly elected, a situation they argue could lead to deadlock. Until 2014, presidents were chosen by parliament.

The government says Turkey, faced with conflict to the south in Syria and Iraq, and a security threat from Islamic State and PKK militants, needs strong and clear leadership to combat terrorism.

The package of 18 amendments would abolish the office of prime minister and give the president the authority to draft the budget, declare a state of emergency and issue decrees overseeing ministries without parliamentary approval.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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Mother, Daughter Die Locked In A Sauna


The women were killed in the northern Czech Republic after getting trapped in a sauna.

Prague:  Two women died in a sauna in the northern Czech Republic after the door handle came off, trapping them inside, police said Sunday.

“The mother and daughter aged 65 and 45 were taking a sauna at their friends’ place in a garden colony,” police spokeswoman Iva Kormosova said in a statement.

“The owner thought they were taking too long to come out so she went to check and found them lying on the floor,” she said, adding that the women had been in the sauna for around 90 minutes.

Emergency services declared the women dead at the scene.

“The handle on the sauna door broke and the women were trapped. They tried to break the window on the door but failed,” said Kormosova.

The accident occurred near the town of Jicin northeast of Prague on Saturday evening, police said.

Post-mortem examinations are due to be held.



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20-Year-Old Woman, Caught In Pakistani Terror Bust, A Medical StudentThe


Naureen Leghari, arrested in Lahore, is a student of Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences

Lahore:  The 20-year-old woman, who was arrested in a terror bust in Lahore, is a medical student and had joined the ISIS militant group on Facebook sometimes ago, the Pakistani army said today.

Pakistan’s security forces yesterday claimed to have foiled a “major” terror attack on minority Christians ahead of Easter here after they killed a militant in Punjab Housing Society and arrested his two aides, including the woman.

Six personnel had suffered injuries in the shootout, the Inter-Services Public Relations, a media wing of Pakistan army, said.

During investigation, the woman has been identified as Naureen Leghari, a second-year student of the Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences (LUMHS) in Jamshoro, Sindh province of Pakistan.

Ms Leghari spent two months in Syria and returned to Lahore almost six days back, Dunya news reported.

Ms Leghari, resident of Hyderabad, had disappeared from the varsity in early February to join the ISIS.
“After reaching Lahore on February 10, Naureen had messaged her brother through a friend’s Facebook profile that she has reached the land of Khilafah (caliphate),” an official said.

“Brother, I am Naureen, I hope you all are fine, I am fine and happy too, I have contacted you to inform you that by the grace of God, I have migrated to the land of Khilafah (caliphate) and hope that you all will someday migrate (to this land),” the official read the message of Naureen to her brother.

Prof Abdul Jabbar, father of Ms Leghari, had filed a missing reported of his daughter on February 10.
A source in Lahore police told PTI that Ms Leghari was connected with the IS men on Facebook where she took allegiance to the IS chief.

The Facebook administration had blocked her account because of her extremist views.

“On her arrival to Lahore she married an IS activist Ali Tariq, 32. Tariq was an expert in preparing suicide vests. Naureen also got training to use weapons especially Kalashnikov.

“When a raiding team surrounded the couple’s hideout on Ghazi Road, they opened fire on it. The firing lasted for 35 minutes. Tariq was killed in the cross fire while Naureen engaged the security forces till she ran out of bullets and some commandos managed to nab her,” the source said.

He said the couple had been given the task to target a Church or any place where Christians would gather today in connection with Easter celebrations.

“Naureen had presented herself for a suicide mission. God forbidden had she succeeded it would have been a first woman suicide bombing in Pakistan,” he said.

“We are interrogating Naureen and another terror suspect taken into custody from the site as it is believed that a wider network of ISIS is operating in the country,” he said.

Security forces have recovered seven suicide vests and other weapons from the couple’s hideouts.



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This Record Breaking Gathering Is Full Of Charlie Chaplins


Charlie Chaplin’s 128th birth anniversary was celebrated in western Switzerland. (AFP)

Corsier-sur-Vevey:  Six hundred and sixty-two people on Sunday set a world record for the biggest gathering of Charlie Chaplins, each donning the black jacket, shoes, bowler hat, toothbrush moustache and cane of the comic’s signature creation, the Little Tramp.

The unusual rally, drawing Chaplin fans of all ages from all over Europe, took place at a museum dedicated to the artist at his former home in Corsier-sur-Vevey, western Switzerland.

 
sir charlie chaplin mass gathering afp

Sunday was Sir Charlie Chaplin’s 128th birth anniversary.

“There have been big Charlie Chaplin gatherings in the past, but this is the first to be certified by an officer of the law,” Annick Barbezat-Perrin, a spokesman for the museum, told AFP.

Mr Chaplin was born in London 128 years ago on Sunday. He died on Christmas Day, 1977, aged 88, after spending the last decades of his life in Switzerland.
 

sir charlie chaplin mass gathering afp

All of Charlie Chaplin’s films up to 1928 were silent.

The Chaplin’s World museum, which opened a year ago on Sunday, also said that it had had around 300,000 visitors in its first 12 months of operation, far outstripping estimates of 220,000.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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Lloyds eyes Berlin for post-Brexit push


Image copyright
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Lloyds Banking Group has decided to set up a European base in Germany after the UK leaves the EU, the BBC understands.

Lloyds has decided to convert its Berlin branch into a subsidiary, in order to maintain a presence inside the EU, sources told the BBC.

Several British financial institutions are putting plans in place to protect their EU operations after Brexit.

With the UK likely to leave the EU single market, they want to make sure they can still cater for EU clients.

Lloyds is the only major British lender that does not currently have a subsidiary in another EU nation.

However, it already has a branch in Berlin and employs 300 people in the city.

The Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported that Lloyds would apply for a new German banking licence within a few months, but the company has refused to comment.

HSBC has already said it is likely to move 1,000 workers from London to its European headquarters in Paris, while the insurance market Lloyds of London recently said it was setting up an office in Brussels.

Various studies have suggested tens of thousands of financial jobs could leave the UK after Brexit.

Many in the City of London fear a rival financial centre could emerge if many banks chose the same location, but no one place has yet emerged as a winner from Brexit.



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Nepal, China Begin First Ever Joint Military Exercise In Kathmandu


In March, Nepal PM Prachanda has shown his support to China’s Silk Road project. (Reuters)

Kathmandu:  China and Nepal began their first-ever joint military exercises on Sunday, a move likely to be keenly looked upon by New Delhi as Beijing boosts its influence in the region.

Nepal is geographically situated between China and India and has in recent years ping-ponged between the sphere of influence of Delhi and Beijing as the Asian giants jostle for regional supremacy.

The 10-day drill programme in Kathmandu, dubbed ‘Sagarmatha Friendship 2017’ referring to the Nepali name for Mount Everest, will focus on counter-terrorism, according to Nepal’s army.

“This is in line with our efforts to hold joint exercises with countries that have diplomatic relations with Nepal,” military spokesman Jhankar Bahadur Kadayat told news agency AFP.

The drills will likely be watched closely by India which has been a major ally of Nepal, since the Jawaharlal Nehru era, with signage of the India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship in 1950.

Landlocked Nepal remains dependent on India for the majority of its imports, but the previous administration aggressively courted China as part of a nationalist drive to decrease the country’s reliance on New Delhi.

“Nepal and China share a multi-faceted tie and a joint military exercise broadens that relationship,” said Tanka Karki, former Nepali ambassador to China.

Last month China’s defence minister Chang Wanquan visited Nepal, the first by a Chinese defence minister in 15 years, to discuss the joint military exercise.

The current Maoist-led government in Nepal has sought to repair strained ties with New Delhi while continuing to accept cash from its powerful northern neighbour.

China has lavished grand infrastructure promises on Nepal, including recently pledging $8.3 billion in investment, equivalent to nearly to fourty per cent of its entire GDP.

The commitment dwarfed India’s investment offer of $317 million.



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9 Wounded In Shooting At Ohio Party Hall


According to Columbus Police, An argument broke out around 3:20 AM inside the J&R Party Hall.

Nine people were wounded by gunfire on Sunday at an after-hours club in Columbus, Ohio, with injuries ranging from minor to life-threatening, police said.

An argument broke out around 3:20 AM inside the J&R Party Hall, Columbus police said in a statement. Five females and four males were shot, the statement said.

“At this point in the investigation there is no information available on the suspect(s),” police said, asking for anyone with information on the case to call.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta, Editing by Alison Williams)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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'China First' Policy – From Maritime Silk Route To One Belt One Road


China says its emphasis is on economic, scientific, environmental cooperation

As China’s economic growth slows down to 6.5% for this financial year, and its domestic demand slumps – it is pushing hard to expand its industry and investment beyond its boundaries, especially in steel, concrete, housing and infrastructure sectors. The country is also trying to change the pivot to a “China First” policy of economic relations with the rest of the world. The 21st century Maritime Silk Route together with the One Belt One Road (OBOR) is being pitched as a signature foreign policy initiative of President Xi Jiinping. As part of its strategy, China wants to develop ports, roads, railways and energy corridors across South Asia all the way up to Europe and Africa.Why is the strategic access to these routes important to China? Will it enhance its security and political might? China says its main emphasis is economic cooperation- strengthening maritime, scientific and environmental cooperation.

The proposed silk route will cover South Asia, Central Asia, Europe and Africa. The Maritime Silk Route (MSR) begins in the country’s Fujian province in Quanzhou city, which is the starting point of the silk route; passes through Guangdong, Guangxi, and Hainan before heading to the Malacca Strait. From Kuala Lumpur it heads to Kolkata and Colombo and then crosses the rest of the Indian Ocean to Nairobi from there it moves along the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea and ends up in Venice.

Quanzhou’s Municipal Office, Vice President Ali Ji Ping tells NDTV that trade between India and the port city Quanzhou was 320 million USD in 2016. He “certainly hoped there would be greater cooperation between the two countries on the proposed silk route. As 30 countries including in Asia like Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore had built maritime relations with China” and “shutting up trade is doomed to fail”.

He also said, “they could also certainly hope for more cooperation from the developed nations as well”.

The project will receive funds from banks such as AIIB, BRICS, the SCO Development Bank which is why many believe India should be part of the initiative and “cherry pick areas of cooperation” as stated by Manoj Joshi of Observer Research Foundation (ORF).

While it can provide an opportunity for China to restructure its economy, labour market and investment abroad, many developed nations are circumspect that it will further deepen the trade imbalance. Disputes with neighbours in the South China Sea cannot be ignored either.

India is opposed to the CPEC corridor which is being developed jointly by China and Pakistan as part of the larger Silk Route and OBOR initiative and cuts through PoK.

Xiamen, which NDTV also visited along with Quanzhou is among the 12 cities in China that have opened rail services to Europe and Central Asia. Reports say, goods worth 1.69 billion have been exported through the EU-China rail link in March.
“Xiamen has the largest shipyard for car carriers to Europe,” Says Chen Yiduan. Deputy Director, Xiamen port authority. It’s a city that is seeing massive development ahead of the BRICS summit here. While Quanzhou, the neighbouring city has the largest GDP figures in the Fujian province.

In May, China will host its first OBOR summit and is expected to be attended by at least 20 countries. India, therefore cannot completely ignore OBOR as “there is a danger to be left behind” while China “manages consensus” on the issue. India could join OBOR keeping in mind its own “look east” policy through the Bangladesh, Myanmar, India, China corridor. Speaking to NDTV, Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs Vice President Peng Keyu said China believed PM Narendra Modi “is a strong leader who should join OBOR as the proposed corridor was all about economics not creating political hegemony.”



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Nepal Braces For 'Traffic Jam' At Mt Everest


There would be around 400 climbers who will embark on the journey to scale the Mt Everest

Kathmandu:  Nepalese officials are bracing for a “traffic jam” at Mount Everest this season due to a surge in the number of climbers eyeing to conquer the world’s tallest peak.

This time, there would be around 400 climbers who will embark on the journey to scale the 8,848-metre-high Mt Everest from mid-May, according to the Department of Tourism.

As climbers are accompanied by high altitude workers, whose number is usually more than that of climbers, there could be around 1,000 individuals on their way to the summit, creating a queue whose snail-paced movement will be punctuated by frequent halts, The Kathmandu Post reported.

Expedition teams have started arriving at the base camp a month before the start of the season to acclimatise.

“Everyone will be in a hurry to reach the peak when the weather clears; there is no management up there to fix turns for the climbers,” said Sonam Sherpa, who has scaled Mt Everest five times working as an aide to climbers.

“So there is a possibility of a traffic jam this year. Returning climbers in general have depleted stock of oxygen with them and they are exhausted, which means life hangs in the balance,” he said.

A good weather means expedition teams will start climbing up from camps two, three and four, resulting in “traffic jam”, the report said.Those with 2014 permission are likely to return to scale the peak this year as in 2015, the government introduced a new law allowing climbers a three years’ window to scale Mt Everest with a single permit and fare.

“This is the final year of the three-year period and the climbers who had taken permission earlier have also arrived to ensure that they do not miss the chance. That is why the number of climbers this season is high,” said Durgadatta Dhakal, information officer at the Department of Tourism.

This year, 267 climbers have already started trekking from Namche to the Everest base camp, said Kapindra Rai, programme officer of the Everest Pollution Control Committee.

Around 290 climbers had arrived at the base camp after acquiring permission to climb Mt Everest last year when hundreds were able to reach the summit following two years of disasters on the mountain.

The 2015 season was called off after 19 climbers were killed and 61 injured by an avalanche triggered by a massive earthquake. In 2014, 16 Sherpa guides died in an avalanche.

More than 3,000 people have scaled Mt Everest since 1953.

Over 280 climbers have died attempting the scale the world’s tallest peak. 



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Walking dead


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Another of Japan’s corporate behemoths faces the prospect of biting the dust

Once a household name, Toshiba is now bleeding billions of dollars and frantically trying to reassure investors that it will not succumb to the kiss of death.

But it also faces another fate: becoming the most high-profile member of Japan’s corporate living dead, also known as zombie firms.

Toshiba admitted this week that its survival is at risk and that the firm could be delisted from the Tokyo stock exchange, following a major accounting scandal and an ill-timed bet on nuclear power.

The 142-year-old company is poised to record Japan’s biggest industrial loss after its investment in US nuclear unit Westinghouse turned toxic.

So what’s next? Well, a lot hinges on Toshiba’s ability to raise much-needed cash through the sale of its valuable memory chip unit.

Here are three possible scenarios.

1. Walking dead – bailout

Toshiba is already the “walking dead” financially, says Gerhard Fasol, chief executive of Eurotechnology Japan: “Action should have been taken 20 years ago”.

Zombie companies are loosely defined as loss-making or insolvent entities that should be allowed to fail, but continue to operate because of lenient creditors.

Thousands exist in Japan and the issue is considered to be a reason why Japan’s economy risks suffering from a third “lost decade”.

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Media captionWhy is Toshiba on the ropes?

All Toshiba needs now is a bailout from the Innovation Network Corporation of Japan (INCJ) or the Enterprise Turnaround Initiative Corporation, two government-backed bodies that rescue ailing companies, for this to happen.

However, many investors are not fans of this option. They argue that zombie firms need to be killed off, so that “creative destruction” can take place.

Amir Anvarzadeh of BGC Partners said if the government gets involved, “then we suspect we will find Toshiba back on the brink again sometime in the the future.”

Want more proof of zombies? Not a single publicly-listed Japanese firm went bust last year. In fact, overall bankruptcies have fallen for eight years in a row.

Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, touts those statistics as a sign of economic success, but being saved from going extinct is not necessarily a good thing.

Innovation and new firm creation remains incredibly low in Japan compared with other developed countries, according to OECD research.

2. Body parts – fire sale

Breaking up is hard to do. But Toshiba President Satoshi Tsunakawa has no other choice but to sell off some prized parts if he wants to keep the company afloat and alive.

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Toshiba President Satoshi Tsunakawa (right) has a massive financial headache on his hands

Toshiba is in the process of auctioning off its semiconductor unit, which makes memory chips for smartphones, computers and other electronic devices.

It is the world’s second-largest chip manufacturer behind Samsung, which is no mean feat, given how competitive the industry is.

Over the last two years, there has been an aggressive wave of consolidation. So when Toshiba’s unit was put up for grabs, an array of interested bidders quickly assembled.

The chip unit is estimated to be worth between $9bn (£7.2bn) and $13bn. Taiwan’s Foxconn, which assembles Apple’s iPhones, has reportedly offered as much as $27bn.

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Reuters

Foxconn also bought Japan’s Sharp last year. But things could easily change.

The chip sale is now said to be facing opposition from various stakeholders, including US firm Western Digital, which has a joint venture deal with Toshiba.

The Japanese government is also believed to be reluctant to allow the sale of another company with proprietary technologies to a Chinese or South Korean rival.

BGC Partners’ Mr Anvarzadeh dismisses the latter. “Arguments that technology transfer ultimately trickle down to China sound dubious,” he says, adding that Taiwan and Korea have more advanced chip technologies anyway.

3. Off the menu – collapse

If the chip sale falls through, more accounting irregularities emerge or the banks decide to call in their loans, then all bets are off.

Toshiba could be allowed to fail. But that would have serious ramifications and will see thousands of shareholders lose their savings. Then there is the issue of national pride.

Toshiba launched the world’s first mass-market laptop in 1985 and became known for its consumer electronics products such as televisions, although it is worth stating those units are no longer at the heart of its business and some are loss-making.

In addition, the decline of Japan Inc, once renowned the world over for its game-changing companies, has been going on for a long time now.

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After 142 years of existence, is Toshiba now toast?

Analysts pretty much all agree that Toshiba is in a difficult, complicated situation. But they differ on the probable course of action.

Eurotechnology’s Mr Fasol is predicting a “politically brokered solution”, in which a US firm and a Japanese government investment fund acquire the chip company.

But Mr Anvarzadeh believes Toshiba should be allowed to sell the unit to Foxconn, because it is willing to pay the highest price.

“Pride is very expensive. I don’t think the government can afford to be proud with Toshiba on the brink,” he said.

“We think the best case scenario is for the Japanese government to stay out of this bidding process and, for once, allow market forces to run their course.”

Follow Leisha on Twitter @BBCLeishaChi.



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US Teen Accidentally Shoots Himself Dead Live On Instagram


Several of his friends were watching when the incident took place last Monday.

Washington:  A 13-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed himself live on Instagram as his friends watched in horror. Malachi Hemphill of Forest Park, Georgia, was found unconscious by his mother Shaniqua Stephens and her daughter after they heard a loud bang from his bedroom.

“I heard a big boom. I couldn’t tell if it was a gunshot or what. I just knew that it was something that was wrong,” the boy’s mother Shaniqua Stephens told WXIA-TV.

She and her daughter ran upstairs and found him. 

“We kicked in the door. We found him just laying there in a pool of blood,” Stephens recounted.

“My daughter screamed and said, ‘Mom turn his phone off!’ As I proceeded to look at his phone he was on Instagram Live,” she said.

Hemphill was live on the social media site Instagram handling the gun when it went off. He was rushed to Grady Hospital where he died.

“This is just a pain that will never go away. He was my only son. He was just 13. Just the thought of me seeing him on the floor will never leave my brain,” she said.

Stephens said it was an accident and not an intentional suicide.

Several of his friends were watching when the shooting happened last Monday. Stephens said they rushed to her house afterward.

“There was about 40 to 50 kids outside. I guess these were the kids that were watching on live in the area. I guess when it happened they just ran over here,” she said.

She has been told that someone asked why he did not have a clip in the gun and told him to put a clip in the gun. 

“As he put the clip in the gun, that is when the gun went off,” Stephens said.

Stephens, however, was not completely sure how Malachi got the gun. She was told he got the gun from a friend who got it from someone else.

She said it was hard to keep track of his activities on social media even though she and her husband Ernest monitored his profiles often.

She said she hopes parents get the message to keep a vigilant eye on what children are doing and who they are doing it with.



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Tense Turkey Votes In Crunch Referendum On Tayyip Erdogan Powers


Istanbul:  Turkey on Sunday began voting in a referendum on expanding the powers of the head of state under President Tayyip Erdogan that will determine its future political destiny but whose outcome remains in doubt after a bitterly-contested campaign.

Over 55.3 million Turks are able to vote in the referendum on sweeping changes to the president’s role which, if agreed, would grant Erdogan more power than any leader of Turkey since its founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his successor Ismet Inonu.

Polling stations opened in Diyarbakir and other cities of eastern Turkey at 0400 GMT, an AFP correspondent said, with voting in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities getting underway an hour later.

Opinion polls, always treated with caution in Turkey, predicted wildly divergent scenarios with analysts saying the outcome remains too close to call despite the clear advantage in resources and airtime enjoyed by the ‘Yes’ campaign.

As the rival sides held rallies up until the last hour of legal campaigning Saturday to sway undecided voters, Erdogan confidently predicted that the ‘Yes’ camp had victory in the bag.

But he urged people not to succumb to “lethargy” in voting, saying “the stronger result the better”.

“A ‘Yes’ that emerges from the ballot box with the highest margin will be a lesson to the West,” he said in the Istanbul district of Sariyer, the last of a stamina-busting sequence of rallies.

‘Turning point’

If passed, the new presidential system would dispense with the office of the prime minister and centralise the entire executive bureaucracy under the presidency, giving Erdogan the direct power to appoint ministers.

The system would come into force after November 2019 elections. Erdogan, who became president in 2014 after serving as premier from 2003, could then seek two more five-year mandates.

But it could also have even wider implications for the key NATO member, which for the last half century has set its sights on joining the European Union.

Erdogan has warned Brussels that in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote he would sign any bill agreed by parliament to reinstate capital punishment, a move that would automatically end its EU bid.

Western reactions to the referendum outcome will be crucial, after Erdogan accused Turkey’s allies of failing to show sufficient solidarity in the wake of the July 15 failed coup.

“The referendum will mark another turning point, or rather crossroads in Turkey’s political history,” wrote Hurriyet Daily News chief editor Murat Yetkin.

Sinan Ekim and Kemal Kirisci of the Brookings Institution think-tank said in a report the changes if agreed “would set in motion the most drastic shake-up of the country’s politics and system of governance in its 94-year-long history”.

‘Bus with no brakes’

The opposition has cried foul that the referendum has been conducted on unfair terms, with ‘Yes’ posters ubiquitous on the streets and opposition voices squeezed from the media.

The poll is also taking place under a state of emergency that has seen 47,000 arrested in an unprecedented crackdown after the botched putsch.

Supporters see the new system as an essential modernisation step for Turkey but opponents fear it risks granting Erdogan authoritarian powers.

The standard-bearer of the ‘No’ camp, Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, warned at his final rally that Turkey was deciding if “we want to continue with the democratic parliamentary system or one-man rule”.

He described the new system as “a bus with no brakes and whose destination is unknown”.

Key factors influencing the result will include whether the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) can perform the delicate balancing act of bringing both nationalists and conservative Kurds behind the new system.

Jihadists nabbed pre-poll

After a slew of attacks over the last year blamed on Kurdish militants and jihadists, security is set to be a major issue on polling day.

Authorities in Istanbul on Friday detained five people suspected of planning an attack on polling day, following the arrest of 19 alleged Islamist extremists in the Aegean city of Izmir earlier in the week.

The Dogan news agency said a total of 49 IS suspects had been detained in Istanbul alone over the last week.

More than 33,500 police officers will be on duty in Istanbul alone on referendum day, according to Turkish media.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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North Korea's Show Of Force Falls Short After Failed Missile Launch


Tokyo:  With the kind of fanfare that only a totalitarian state can muster, North Korea on Saturday flaunted missiles that can theoretically reach the United States and defiantly stated that it was prepared to counter any U.S. attack with “a nuclear war of our own.”

But it soon looked like a case of style over substance. North Korea somewhat ruined the impression created with the parade, which took place on the most important day of the year for Kim Jong Un’s regime, with a failed missile launch Sunday morning.

The ballistic missile was fired from the Sinpo area on the east coast shortly before 6 a.m. local time, U.S. Pacific Command said. It blew up almost immediately, complicating efforts to identify the missile’s size and range.

North Korea fired a land-based version of its medium-range, submarine-launched ballistic missile from the same area earlier this month. That exercise also failed.

The missile was fired just minutes after Vice President Mike Pence took off from Alaska on his way to Seoul, where he is expected to issue a strong warning to North Korea to stop its provocative behavior or face consequences.

Pence was briefed on North Korea’s failed missile launch within an hour of departing from Anchorage, where Air Force Two stopped to refuel. He was in contact with President Donald Trump, aides told reporters traveling with the vice president.
 

Ranks of goose-stepping soldiers paraded in Pyongyang for a show of strength.

As tensions with North Korea escalated heading into the weekend, Trump spent Friday and Saturday mornings golfing at his private club in West Palm Beach, Florida, greeting members after he returned from the green, according to someone who saw him.

The president seemed to be hoping for a calm weekend. He was joined on his trip by just three junior staffers and K.T. McFarland, a deputy national security adviser who was recently pushed out and made ambassador to Singapore as a consolation. Many of Trump’s White House aides were given the weekend off.

Trump had nothing to say about the launch, said Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. “The president and his military team are aware of North Korea’s most recent unsuccessful missile launch,” Mattis said in a statement. “The president has no further comment.”

The missile was launched into the sea off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula, where a U.S. Navy strike group is patrolling. Military commanders ordered the group, led by the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, back to the area this month as tensions with North Korea mounted.

The group has the ability to shoot down incoming missiles and launch missiles of its own.

Although the missile in Sunday’s attempt – like others before it – exploded shortly after launch, experts warn that North Korea’s rocket scientists learn something from failures as well as successes, giving them information they can use to hone their technology.

Certainly, the military hardware paraded through Pyongyang on Saturday shows that Kim is unrelenting in his quest to develop a missile capable of reaching the United States.

Experts were stunned at the sheer number of new missiles on display during the parade – including, apparently, a new and previously unknown type of intercontinental ballistic missile.

“It’s not like not doing a nuclear test was good news – this is all part of the same program,” said Jeffrey Lewis, head of the East Asia program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in California. North Korea has claimed to be able to make nuclear weapons small enough to be able to fit on a missile.

“It’s like they’re saying: ‘Hey, here’s some other bad news,’ ” Lewis said.
 

dprk parade

Women wave flowers as they pass North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un during a mass rally.

The two-hour-long parade took place on a day officially known as the “Day of the Sun,” the anniversary of the 1912 birth of Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founder and the current leader’s grandfather.

A relaxed Kim Jong Un stood smiling on a balcony as untold tens of thousands of soldiers marched past, planes in a formation making 105 – for the anniversary – flew overhead and missile transporters rolled through the square in front of him.

He did not look like a man worried about a strike ordered by Trump, like that in Syria earlier this month, or concerned about China’s increasing anger over his belligerence.

“We will respond to an all-out war with an all-out war and a nuclear war of our own,” Choe Ryong Hae, one of Kim’s top aides, said in a speech at the parade, as the 33-year-old leader looked on.

Kim said in his New Year’s address that North Korea was in the “final stage” of preparations to test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM. That prompted Trump to tweet in response: “It won’t happen!”

But Kim appeared to demonstrate Saturday that he is in the process of making it happen.

North Korea has previously shown off at these parades two kinds of ICBMs, the KN-08 and the KN-14, both with the theoretical capacity to reach the U.S. mainland.

Saturday’s parade included the same vehicles as in the past, but instead of carrying missiles they were carrying huge, previously unseen missile canisters. Those could have contained the KN-08 and KN-14, or something else – or nothing at all.

But the message was clear.

“This was a promise of future capabilities more than a demonstration of existing missiles,” said Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, which tries to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. “We do not know if there is actually an ICBM in that canister. But it is certainly coming.”

Furthermore, the canisters are probably an indication that North Korea is pressing ahead with solid-fuel technology, because canisters are used to keep the temperature stable for solid-fuel missiles.

By using solid fuel, North Korea can roll out its missiles from a hangar or tunnel ready to launch, rather than having to fuel them on a gantry like the older liquid-fueled rockets. That allows much less time for the missiles to be detected by satellites.

North Korea has been using this technology for its submarine-launched ballistic missile, which Kim boasted was “the greatest success,” and the land-based variant, tested earlier this month but less successfully. Both types of missiles were displayed in the parade Saturday.

But that wasn’t all. Although experts were continuing to analyze footage from the parade, it appeared that North Korea had shown off a third and previously unknown ICBM.

The black-and-white missiles looked like KN-08s but were slightly smaller. They were rolled out on vehicles usually used for the medium-range Musudan missile, which North Korea tested a barrage of last year.

In January, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported, citing military officials, that North Korea had probably built a new ICBM that was less than 50 feet long. The black-and-white missile seen Saturday was consistent with that description, experts said.

But rather than being concerned that North Korea potentially had a new weapon that could reach the United States, Michael Elleman, senior fellow for missile defense at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, saw something encouraging.

“This could signal some confusion in terms of where they want to go with their long-range systems,” he said, noting that it could mean North Korea has not finalized the design of its ICBM.

Elleman said he could not believe that North Korea had been able to master the technology necessary to launch even one stage of a two- or three-stage ICBM.

“Until they’ve fixed the Musudan, they’re not going to get anywhere,” he said. North Korea launched a series of medium-range Musudan missiles last year – thought to be designed to become a stage in an ICBM – and all but one failed.

North Korea has never launched an ICBM, but given how difficult the technology is, it would almost certainly fail on its first test, experts say.

Markus Schiller, a German aerospace engineer who specializes in missiles, also cast doubts on how much progress North Korea was making.

“The Soviets tried to build a solid-fuel missile and it took them more than 15 years to get it up and running,” he said. “You don’t just get a solid-fuel missile overnight.”

But even if North Korea does not yet have the technical capacity to launch a missile capable of reaching the United States, it has clearly demonstrated that it has the political will.

“It’s alarming that they are pouring so much money and resources into this program,” Elleman said. “Eventually, they are going to be successful.”

– – –

The Washinton Post’s Ashley Parker in West Palm Beach, Fla., contributed to this report.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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Won Election So Can't Be Sued For Violence At Rallies: Donald Trump


Last year, protesters from a campaign rally sued Donald Trump – claiming the future president urged his supporters to assault them.

Now Trump is the president, of course. And while the lawsuit grinds on, with more accusations added last week, he claims he won immunity along with the election.

“Mr. Trump is immune from suit because he is President of the United States,” his lawyers wrote Friday, rebutting a complaint filed by three protesters who claimed Trump incited a riot against them at a Louisville event in March 2016.

Trump’s team challenged the accusations – negligence and incitement to riot – on many other grounds, too.

But a federal judge already rejected their attempt to have the lawsuit thrown out earlier this month.

And in another new filing in the same case, a Trump supporter accused of assaulting protesters agreed with the plaintiffs that Trump wanted a riot – while denying he actually harmed anyone.

Alvin Bamberger, who was seen in a video pushing a protester through a jeering crowd at the Louisville convention center, “would not have acted as he did without Trump and/or the Trump Campaign’s specific urging and inspiration,” Bamberger’s lawyer wrote.

Bamberger denied “shoving . . . and striking” anyone, as the lawsuit accuses him of. But he admitted to touching plaintiff Kashiya Nwanguma, a 21-year-old college student who had gone to the rally with a protest sign.

And he accepted as true her claims that Trump’s speech “was calculated to incite violence” against the protesters.

“Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump and/or the Trump Campaign repeatedly urged people attending Trump political rallies to remove individuals who were voicing opposition,” reads Bamberger’s filing, which asks that Trump be forced to pay his damages, if he’s found liable.

The Washington Post has chronicled Trump’s history of tough talk from the podium, and violent rallies that followed him on his path to the Republican nomination.

“I’d like to punch him in the face,” Trump once said of a protester at a rally in Las Vegas, for example.

A week later, when protesters interrupted Trump in Louisville, the candidate responded with scattered commands: “Get them out,” “get him the hell out,” “don’t hurt them.”

“If I say, ‘Don’t hurt them,’ then the press says, ‘Well, Trump isn’t as tough as he used to be,'” he said at one point.

Somewhere in the midst of this, a video shows Bamberger, 75, and a man named Matthew Heimbach jostling Nwanguma – a black woman in a sea of white men.

Shortly after the incident, Bamberger wrote an apologetic letter to a radio station, recalling the rally as orderly until “Trump kept saying ‘get them out, get them out,’ ” and chaos ensued.

Weeks later, Nwanguma and two other protesters sued Trump, Bamberger and Heimbach.

The latter two had assaulted them, they claimed. Trump – through his words that day and at previous rallies – had allegedly ordered them to do so.

Trump’s lawyers denied all this and sought to have the lawsuit tossed out – claiming the candidate had not been talking to the crowd when he said “get them out.”

Bamberger, who faces a claim of assault and battery, also sought to have the lawsuit dismissed. But after a federal judge allowed it to proceed earlier this month, he countered Trump’s claims that the candidate was not responsible for what his supporters did.

“At the Louisville political rally at issue in this lawsuit, Trump and/or the Trump Campaign urged people attending the rally to remove the protesters,” Bamberger’s lawyers wrote. He “had no prior intention to act as he did.”

“That is extremely significant,” said Greg Belzley, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. “It is fairly unusual to have a person who is engaged in violent misconduct … actually point the finger at the person and identify the person who caused him to do what he did.”

He laughed out loud when asked about Trump’s claim of presidential immunity, pointing to a 1997 Supreme Court ruling that held President Bill Clinton could be sued over events that occurred before he was took office.

While the judge has not yet set a timetable for the expected trial, Belzley said his team would begin requesting campaign documents and other evidence they hope will show that Trump knew his words could provoke violence.

And they are preparing to put the president under oath as the lawsuit moves toward trial.

“The key is going to be his deposition,” Belzley said, “which we intend to pursue.”

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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Car Bomb Kills Over 100 Syrians Evacuating Besieged Town


Pictures in the aftermath of the explosion showed with bodies lying on the ground. (Reuters)

Beirut:  A car bomb in northern Syria killed more than 100 people Saturday when it ripped through buses evacuating residents from a town besieged by rebels for more than two years.

Syrian state television showed bodies strewn across the ground, the charred vehicles still packed with their passengers’ possessions. By late afternoon, the road was lined with body bags.

The attack served as a bloody reminder of the human stakes for regional powers as they broker a complex population swap, moving some 30,000 Syrians between government- and rebel-held territory.

The buses had left the northern town of Fouaa on Friday as part of a long-awaited first phase of that agreement. Those on board had spent years under siege by extremist rebels, living in fear and without access to regular food or medicine.

Eyewitnesses to the attack said the air filled with screams as passengers, some of them on fire, staggered out of the cloud of dust.

A man who gave his name as Ali described watching a frail old woman stumble and fall. “We reached her too late, her leg had snapped and there was nothing we could do. What did she do to deserve this? She was just someone’s mother.”

The White Helmets rescue group said its volunteers had recovered more than 100 bodies from the wreckage, and that another 55 people had been injured. The death toll was expected to rise.

In one video from the site, a shaken reporter said the dead included civilians as well as rebel fighters from the area where the blast occurred. Using a cellphone camera to capture the devastation, his video showed the charred bodies of two small children dangling from vehicles.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, and its implications for the broader transfer deal were unclear.

Overseen by Qatar and Iran, the negotiations had negligible input from the Syrian government, underscoring the extent to which President Bashar al-Assad has lost control in certain areas.

The population shift is an attempt to alleviate the hardships of residents in towns under siege by both rebel and government forces.

Each side has used the civilians it surrounded as bargaining chips to gain leverage over the other.

Some 2.3 million Syrians lived under complete siege or in areas at risk, according to Siege Watch, a Washington-based monitoring group.

Opposition officials have accused the Syrian government and its Iranian allies of using siege tactics to force demographic changes across the country, mostly along sectarian lines.

The mostly Shiite towns of Fouaa and Kefraya have been reliant on government airdrops since rebel forces cut their supply lines in May 2015.

Also part of the deal were the southern towns of Madaya and Zabadani. Madaya in particular had endured a siege so tight that dozens of people starved to death. Medics say others were killed by the snipers and land mines that surrounded the town.

Frustrations were already mounting among evacuees when Saturday’s explosion occurred: Thousands of people from pro-government and opposition areas were stuck on opposite sides of the edge of Aleppo city as rebels and the government bickered over the terms for evacuating fighters.

The attack sent shock waves through Madaya’s convoy, also traveling under the terms of the deal. Inside those buses, the rebels, activists and doctors warned that they could become “sitting ducks” in the face of retaliatory violence.

“Everyone is tense here; we feel like the attacks could start at any time,” said one man, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect the security of family members still in Madaya.

But by nightfall Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring network reported that buses were crossing into government- and rebel-held territory from the two transit points as movements under the deal appeared to resume.

In footage broadcast by the Syrian state-owned al-Ikhbariya channel, a woman stood weeping outside the Aleppo hospital to which the dead and wounded had been taken.

“I know nothing of my family. I can’t find them,” she said.

– – –

Zakaria Zakaria in Istanbul and Suzan Haidamous in Beirut contributed to this report.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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Here's One Thing United Will Do Differently After The Fiasco


United Airlines has updated its policy to no longer allow crew members to displace passengers who are already seated on a plane.

Under the new policy, which is meant to avoid future public relations fiascos like the one the world witnessed earlier this week, airline crews are required to check in at least an hour before a flight leaves. The purpose is to avoid having to find a seat for a crew member after all passengers have already boarded.

The policy change comes a few days after a passenger of an overbooked flight was violently forced out of a plane so a crew member could take his seat. Now-viral videos of the incident show a man, his nose bloody and his glasses nearly knocked off his face, being dragged by the arm across the aisle.

United spokeswoman Maggie Schmerin said in an email that the new policy is meant to ensure that such incidents will “never happen again.” Previously, crews could be booked up until the time of departure, Schmerin said.
 

Dr David Dao, 69, was dragged from his seat and down the aisle by United Airlines staff.

“This is one of our initial steps in a review of our policies to deliver the best customer service,” Schmerin said.

According to an internal email published by TMZ, crews who are not checked in within the 60-minute window will have to book the next available flight.

No crew member “can displace a customer who has boarded an aircraft,” according to the email, which was sent out Friday. Schmerin confirmed the authenticity of the published email.

The incident that set off a public relations crisis for United happened at Chicago O’Hare International Airport Sunday, when passengers of the flight bound for Louisville were offered vouchers to rebook. But no one volunteered, so the airline chose the passengers. One of them, 69-year-old David Dao, refused to give up his seat.

Videos taken by other passengers show a now-suspended security officer with the Chicago Department of Aviation leaning over to grab Dao and pulling him up. At some point, he went limp, and the officer dragged him off the plane. Two other officers have been placed on leave, the Associated Press reported.

The following day, United Airlines chief executive Oscar Munoz issued a statement saying he apologizes “for having to re-accomodate” the customers. He also sent a reassuring letter to his employees, telling them that Dao “refused” to cooperate after he was “politely asked” to leave, prompting crews to call for help.

The disturbing videos have been uploaded multiple times on YouTube, with one viewed more than 3 million times as of Saturday. The incident – and Munoz’s muted response to it – also prompted international outrage, particularly from China, where public anger was fueled by reports that the passenger was Asian.

By Tuesday, United’s stock prices had plummeted. Munoz issued a more humbled apology the same day.

“I continue to be disturbed by what happened. I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard,” Munoz said of the passenger he seemed to fault in his letter to employees. “No one should ever be mistreated this way . . . It’s never too late to do the right thing. I have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again.”

Munoz also promised to review policies on how United handles overbooked flights, and to have a public report by April 30.

The United chief, who was awarded “Communicator of the Year” by PRWeek about a month ago, acknowledged Wednesday on ABC News’s “Good Morning America” that his immediate response to the incident “fell short of truly expressing the shame” he felt after seeing the videos.

A United a spokeswoman also said Wednesday that the passengers who were on the flight would receive compensation equal to the cost of their tickets, according to the AP. The compensation can be in the form of cash, travel credits or airline miles.

In a statement issued Thursday, United said the company will no longer ask law enforcement officers to remove passengers from flights “unless it is a matter of safety and security,” and will review its training programs for employees.

The company also repeated its apologies, saying Munoz had reached out to Dao “on numerous occasions.”

Dao’s attorney, Thomas Demetrio, said at a news conference Thursday that his client will “probably” file a lawsuit. Dao suffered a concussion and a broken nose, and will undergo reconstructive surgery after losing two front teeth, Demetrio said.

– – –

The Washington Post’s Lori Aratani contributed to this report.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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NASA Clicks Photos Of A New Crack In One Of Greenland's Largest Glaciers


A preliminary image shows the new rift in Greenland’s Petermann glacier.

The first photographs of a new and ominous crack in Greenland’s enormous Petermann Glacier were captured by a NASA airborne mission Friday.

NASA’s Operation IceBridge, which has been flying over northwest Greenland for the past several days, took the photos after being provided coordinates by Stef Lhermitte, a professor at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, who had spotted the oddly located chasm by examining satellite images.

The NASA pictures make clear that a significant new rift has opened near the center of the glacier’s floating ice shelf — an unusual location that raises questions about how it formed. Moreover, this crack is not so distant from another much wider and longer crack that has been slowly extending toward the shelf’s center from its eastern side wall.

If the two cracks were to intersect, then a single break would run across more than half of the ice shelf. That might, in turn, cause the piece to begin to break away.

But in the image NASA also noted another feature in the ice that it termed a “medial flow line” that, it said, “may exert a stagnating effect on the propagation of the new rift toward the older one.” So it remains to be seen just how much, and how rapidly, the new rift – which has only just been discovered – could undermine the floating ice shelf.

Still, there’s good precedent for worrying about what could happen at Petermann. When two prior ice islands broke off the glacier in 2010 and 2012 – the 2010 island in particular was extremely large – the events drew major media attention and were even discussed in a hearing before Congress.

“Last week, an ice sheet covering 100 square miles broke off Greenland,” then-Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., the chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, said at the opening of the hearing in summer 2010. “This giant ice island is more than four times the size of Manhattan. It is the largest piece of Arctic ice to break free in nearly half a century.”

Those past breaks also caused the glacier’s floating ice shelf to become much smaller than it had been before.

Petermann Glacier has grown back somewhat since the 2010 and 2012 breaks because of its steady flow outward (at a rate that appears to be accelerating somewhat). But if the next piece breaks off, the size of the glacier would plunge once again, according to Jason Box of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland. Box estimates the resulting ice island would be some 50 to 70 square miles in size, or more than twice the size of Manhattan.

NASA’s Operation IceBridge is a research mission in which instrumented aircraft are flown over ice at both poles – both Greenland and Antarctica – to collect data about the state of polar ice and how it is changing. IceBridge operates over Greenland at this time of year and snapped the photos on what appeared to be a crystal-clear day at the glacier.

It has also taken recent photos of other nearby glaciers, such as Heilprin and Upernavik, and the state of floating sea ice in the channel between northwestern Greenland and northeastern Canada, in addition to its extensive data-gathering work.

After seeing the new NASA images, Lhermitte responded that it was “amazing to see the rift from nearby after studying it from space for several days.” But, he added, “From these images alone, it is difficult to already say anything about what exactly caused the crack on this unusual spot.”

The crack appeared in the middle of the floating shelf, rather than on one of its sides, as is typical of this glacier — leading Lhermitte to wonder whether it could have been caused by the ocean waters below the shelf.

You can bet that scientists will be conducting a great deal more research on this crack, what caused it and whether it might precipitate bigger changes to Petermann Glacier.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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Pentagon Confirms Apparent Failed North Korea Missile Test


Pentagon confirmed that North Korean missile launch failed.

Washington, United States:  The US Defense Department confirmed on Saturday that North Korea appeared to have fired a missile, and said the launch failed “almost immediately.”

“US Pacific Command detected and tracked what we assess was a North Korean missile launch at 11:21 am Hawaii time (2121 GMT) April 15,” said Dave Benham, a spokesman with the US Pacific command.

“The launch of the ballistic missile occurred near Sinpo. The missile blew up almost immediately,” Benham said.

“US Pacific Command is fully committed to working closely with our allies in the Republic of Korea and in Japan to maintain security,” he said.

A US administration official said President Donald Trump “has been briefed” about the launch.

The launch came the same day that North Korea’s weapons of war rolled through Pyongyang streets as leader Kim Jong-Un mounted a spectacular show of strength on the 105th anniversary of the country’s founder, after threats by Trump warning the reclusive nation against a missile launch.

The nuclear-armed state is under United Nations sanctions over its weapons program.

It nevertheless has carried out five nuclear tests — two of them last year — and multiple missile launches, one of which saw several rockets land in waters provocatively close to Japan last month.

As tensions worsened between Washington and Pyongyang in recent days, Trump ordered a strike group headed by the USS Carl Vinson supercarrier to the Korean peninsula in a show of force against Kim.

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North Korea Fails In New Missile Test: Report


The failed launch came a day after North Korea showcased nearly 60 missiles. (Reuters File Photo)

Seoul, South Korea:  A new North Korean missile test failed on Sunday, the South’s defence ministry said.

“North Korea attempted to test an unidentified type of missile from Sinpo area in the South Hamkyong Province this morning, but we suspect the launch has failed,” the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said it was analysing the test for further details.

The failed launch came a day after North Korea showcased nearly 60 missiles — including what is suspected to be a new intercontinental ballistic missile — at a giant military parade to mark the 105th birthday of its founder Kim Il-Sung.

Pyongyang’s rogue atomic ambitions have come into sharp focus in recent weeks, with United States President Donald Trump vowing a tough stance against the North and threatening unilateral action if China failed to help curb its neighbour’s nuclear programme.

As hostilities in the region surge Trump has sent an aircraft carrier-led strike group to the Korean peninsula to press his point, while the North has launched a flurry of rockets.

Pyongyang has so far staged five nuclear tests, two of them last year, and analysis of satellite imagery suggests it could be preparing for a sixth.

Intelligence officials have warned it could be less than two years away from achieving the ability to strike the continental United States.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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University Protests 'Secondary' To Migration: Hungary PM Viktor Orban


Viktor Orban said protests are secondary theatres of conflict compared to his battle against immigration

Budapest, Hungary:  Facing protests at home and abroad over controversial new laws on universities and nongovernmental organisations, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said protests are “secondary theatres of conflict” compared to his battle against immigration, as thousands of people again took to the streets Saturday.

The latest rally against the university law and other government policies drew a crowd estimated by local media at 10,000 people in the Hungarian capital Budapest.

Urging a reform of the election system, anti-government activist Marton Gulyas told the crowd that under current rules, introduced in 2012 and 2013 and seen by critics as favouring Orban’s ruling party Fidesz, it was impossible to oust the premier.

“As long as (parties) are measured by Fidesz election rules, they will win,” he said.

A higher education bill fast-tracked through parliament on April 5 has been widely seen as directly targeting the Central European University (CEU), founded by US billionaire George Soros in 1991.

The law has triggered the largest series of protests seen in Budapest since Orban came to power in 2010.

Another law that would force nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) to register as “foreign-funded organisations” was submitted to parliament earlier this month, and has also prompted international condemnation and street demonstrations.

Calling international politics “a theatre of conflict” Orban said in an interview that “migration lies at the centre of that theatre of conflict”.

“The Soros university, the transparency of international lobby organisations (…) are all secondary theatres of conflict,” he told pro-government daily Magyar Idok.

The New York-registered Central European University (CEU), founded by Soros in 1991 and long considered by the government as a hostile bastion of liberalism, says it could be forced out of Hungary as a result of the new rules.

Institutions from outside the European Union will not be able to award Hungarian diplomas without an agreement between national governments.

They will also be required to have a campus and faculties in their home country — conditions not met by the CEU.

The legislation has been sharply critcised including by the US State Department, whose spokesman last week urged Budapest to “suspend” its implementation.  

Anti-government activist Gulyas added that he would launch a movement to force changes in the electoral system by the end of the year ahead of the next parliamentary election due early-2018.

Orban called the current protests a “dress rehearsal” for the upcoming election campaign.

“The 2018 vote will be destiny-deciding for the country… whether there will be a government and parliament serving the interests of the Hungarian people or foreign interests,” he told Magyar Idok.

The Hungarian-born philanthropist Soros, 86, has often been accused by Orban during the past two years of seeking to undermine Europe by backing open borders and pro-refugee policies.

“(Soros) pays several lobby organisations disguised as civil groups in order to assert his own interests. He maintains an actual network, with its own advocates, its own media, hundreds of people, and its own university,” Orban said.

The Hungarian premier, 53, has built fences to keep out migrants, and placed asylum-seekers in border “transit zone” camps, part of a hardline anti-immigration policy since 2015 that has won him plaudits at home but criticism abroad.

“Those who call themselves liberal or leftwing and who are supported with money, power, and networks of international forces – with George Soros at the head – say that taking measures against migration is wrong, impractical, or immoral,” said Orban.

“In contrast we want to protect the essence of Europe, we don’t want parallel societies, we don’t want to replace our population, and we don’t want to swap our Christian civilisation for another kind”.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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Protesters March To Press Donald Trump To Release Tax Returns


Donald Trump has released such a financial statement but has kept his tax returns private.

Washington, United States:  Thousands of protesters gathered Saturday in cities across the United States to pressure President Donald Trump to release his tax returns, a move of transparency he has refused to make.

“Until he does, we’ll never know what he’s hiding or who his policies are designed to benefit. We need a president who works for all Americans — and a tax system that does, too,” said the organizers of the “Tax March” demonstrations on its website.

The protests were timed to coincide with the traditional April 15 deadline for US tax filings (though this year the deadline falls on April 18).

In Washington, several thousand protesters of all ages gathered in front of the Capitol building housing Congress, holding up signs such as “What is he hiding?” and “Real men pay their taxes.”

A huge inflatable chicken, adorned to look like Trump, toured the area, apparently to suggest that the Republican president was afraid, or chicken, to publish his tax records.

“If he’s got nothing to hide, he should release his tax returns,” said protester Liz Turner, 31.

Asked what she suspected was in them, Turner replied: “Maybe something to do with Russia?”

Ellen Lodwick, 67, a retired corporate researcher from Maryland who has participated in all the local anti-Trump demonstrations since his November 8 election, cast doubt on his business dealings.

“There are probably many illegal or questionable investments in things that could affect how he looks at government and legislation, because he’s too connected,” Lodwick said.

For decades, US presidents and presidential candidates have released their tax returns voluntarily — there is no legal requirement to do so. US law requires only the publication of a financial statement that estimates assets, including debt and revenue, but does not give details on the amount of taxes paid.

Trump, a billionaire property tycoon, released such a financial statement but has kept his tax returns private, both during the election campaign and since taking office in January.

Trump has justified his refusal to publish his returns by noting they are being audited. Federal tax authorities say that does not bar him from releasing the returns.

“Disclosing tax returns is the very lowest ethical bar for a president, and we are going to insist that he clear it,” Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, told the crowd in Washington.

Trump was not in the city during the demonstration; he is again spending the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. “Tax March” protesters demonstrated outside the exclusive property Saturday.

And in New York, several thousand protesters assembled around Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan ahead of a march to the Trump International Hotel and Tower, where Trump lived before his election.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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Emma Morano, World's Oldest Person, Dies In Italy At Age 117


Emma Morano, who lived in northern Italy, was born on November 29, 1899.

Rome:  Emma Morano, who at 117 was believed to be the world’s oldest person and the last to be born in the 19th century, died on Saturday, Italian media reported.

Morano, who lived in northern Italy, was born on November 29, 1899, four years before the Wright brothers first took to the air. Her life spanned three centuries, two World Wars and more than 90 Italian governments.

Italian news agencies ANSA and Agi said the death was reported by her friends and family.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

© Thomson Reuters 2017



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Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai Dubs US Bomb Drop Decision 'Treason'


Mr Karzai said he planned to ‘stand against America’ like his stand in opposition to Soviet. (File Photo)

Baghdad:  Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai accused his successor on Saturday of committing treason by allowing the US military to drop the largest conventional bomb ever used in combat during an operation against ISIS terrorists in Afghanistan.

Mr Karzai, who also vowed to ‘stand against America’, retains considerable influence within Afghanistan’s majority Pashtun ethnic group, to which President Ashraf Ghani also belongs. His strong words could signal a broader political backlash that may endanger the US military mission in Afghanistan.

Afghan defence officials have said the 21,600-pound (9,797-kg) GBU-43, dropped late on Thursday in the eastern province of Nangarhar, had killed nearly 100 suspected terrorists, though they acknowledged this was an estimate and not based on an actual body count.

“How could you permit Americans to bomb your country with a device equal to an atom bomb?” Mr Karzai said at a public event in Kabul, questioning Mr Ghani’s decision. “If the government has permitted them to do this, that was wrong and it has committed a national treason.”

Mr Ghani’s office said the strike had been closely coordinated between Afghan and US forces and replied to Mr Karzai’s charges with a statement saying, “Every Afghan has the right to speak their mind. This is a country of free speech.”

Public reaction to Thursday’s strike has been mixed, with some residents near the blast praising Afghan and US troops for pushing back the ISIS terrorists.

While the bomb has been described as one of the largest non-nuclear devices ever used, its destructive power, equivalent to 11 tonnes of TNT, pales in comparison with the relatively small atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945, which had blasts equivalent to between 15,000 and 20,000 tonnes of TNT.

‘Violation Of Our Sovereignty’

During Mr Karzai’s tenure as president, his opposition to airstrikes by foreign military forces helped to sour his relationship with the United States and other Western nations.

As the Kabul government, split between Mr Ghani and his rival Mr Abdullah Abdullah under a US-brokered power-sharing deal, remains fragile, Mr Karzai’s political interventions draw close attention. Mr Ghani has failed to build the kind of domestic following that Mr Karzai still has despite stepping down in 2014.

Mr Karzai said he planned to ‘stand against America’, a stance he compared to decisions earlier in his life to fight against the Soviets and later the Taliban regime.

“I decided to get America off my soil,” he said. “This bomb wasn’t only a violation of our sovereignty and a disrespect to our soil and environment, but will have bad effects for years.”

While Mr Karzai did not elaborate on how he would oppose the United States, his stance may pose problems for Mr Ghani’s administration, which is heavily reliant on the United States and other foreign donors for aid and military support.

On Friday, the top US commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, defended the strike, saying the decision to use the bomb was based on military needs, not political reasons.

Afghan troops, backed by US warplanes and special forces, have been battling terrorists linked to ISIS in eastern Afghanistan for years.

The most recent operation began in March and continued until troops hit ISIS terrorists entrenched in booby-trapped tunnels in a remote mountain region, leading commanders to call for the use of the GBU-43 bomb.

(Writing by Josh Smith, Editing by Gareth Jones)

© Thomson Reuters 2017



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As Elections Approach, Iran President Takes Hardline On Missile Projects


Iran President Hassan Rouhani is going to face elections in May (File Photo)

Dubai:  Iran will ask ‘no one’s permission’ to build up its missile capability, President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday, in what appeared to be a defiant response to US efforts to hamper the Iranian military.

Facing an election in May where he hopes to secure a second four-year term, Mr Rouhani has had to defend himself from opponents who say he has been too eager to appease the West, after agreeing to curb Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.

US President Donald Trump has criticised the nuclear deal and said during his election campaign he would stop Iran’s missile programme. After Iran test-fired a new ballistic missile in January, Mr Trump tweeted that it was ‘playing with fire’.

Addressing an event showcasing some locally built military hardware, broadcast on state TV, Mr Rouhani said, “The strengthening of the capability of the Iranian armed forces … is only for defending the country and we will ask no one’s permission to build up the armed forces, and to build missiles and aircraft.”

He said Iran has never had “aggressive aims, but peace is not a one-way road and if we decide to be peaceful the other party … may not. So there is a need for vigilance.”

A bill to impose new sanctions on Iran over ballistic missile launches and other non-nuclear activities has been delayed in the US Senate due to concerns about the presidential election.

Iran says its missile tests are not covered by the nuclear deal.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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Singapore Minister Applauds Sikhs For Vibrant Culture On Baisakhi


Foreign Minister Ng Chee Meng also noted foreign workers’ contribution to Singapore.

Singapore:  Singapore’s Sikh community has been applauded for its vibrant culture as it celebrated Vaisakhi with foreign workers, especially those from India.

Noting foreign workers’ contribution to Singapore, Singapore’s Education Minister Ng Chee Meng welcomed the initiative of the Singapore Khalsa Association in organising traditional sports like Kabbadi and a carnival for them.

“Many of them (foreign workers) work in the construction industry and build our beautiful homes. While they are here, let’s show them the generosity and the warm-hearted nature of Singaporeans,” said Mr Ng at the carnival which began yesterday.

Mr Ng also noted the vibrant presence of Singapore Sikhs.

“The size of Sikh community is 15,000 but your presence is disproportionate to your relative size to our population.It shows the vibrancy of your culture, the spirit of the people – all demonstrated very much here (carnival) today,” said the minister.

India’s High Commissioner to Singapore Jawed Ashraf joined the community at the carnival, where 27 artists from the Jalandhar-based Apeejay College of Fine Arts are performing.

The artists are on a week-long visit to Singapore under sponsorship from the association, a sporting and cultural centre for the local Sikhs.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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Terrorist Linked To Charlie Hebdo Attack Could Still Be Alive: Iraq


3 terrorists broke in a meeting at Charlie Hebdo office in 2015 killing 17 people. (File Photo)

BAGHDAD:  An ISIS terrorist linked to the deadly 2015 attack on French weekly Charlie Hebdo could be still be alive, the Iraqi military said on Saturday.

Boubaker el-Hakim was reported by American defence officials to have been killed in November, in a US drone strike in Raqqa, ISIS’s de facto capital in Syria.

Iraqi intelligence supplied information to the Syrian airforce to carry out a series of strikes on ISIS headquarters and hideouts in Syria, including one believed to belong to el-Hakim, an Iraqi military statement said.

Aircraft from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s airforce targeted several locations in Raqqa and Albu Kamal, near the Iraqi border, said the statement, without indicating the location of el-Hakim’s headquarters or the date of the raids.

An Iraqi military spokesman told Reuters el-Hakim’s headquarters were destroyed but it wasn’t clear if he was killed.

In 2015 Iraq and Syria established a joint committee with Russia and Iran, Assad’s main foreign backers, to share intelligence about ISIS.

El-Hakim was believed to have been involved in planning the January 2015 attack on Charlie Hebdo, a weekly known for its satirical covers ridiculing political and religious leaders.

Two terrorists broke into an editorial meeting of the weekly, raking it with bullets, killing 17 people. Another terrorist later killed a policewoman and took hostages at a supermarket, killing four before police shot him dead.

ISIS declared a ‘caliphate’ spanning parts of Iraq and Syria after it captured the Iraqi city of Mosul in mid-2014.

The hardline group has since lost most cities it captured in Iraq and its terrorists are now surrounded in parts of Mosul by US-backed Iraqi government forces.

A US-backed offensive is also under way to capture Raqqa, involving a Syrian Kurdish-Arab alliance.

(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli, Editing by Andrew Bolton)

© Thomson Reuters 2017



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6.2 Magnitude Quake Rattles Northern Chile: Report


The north of the country was struck by an 8.3 temblor followed by a tsunami in 2015. (Representational)

Santiago:  An earthquake measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale shook northern Chile Saturday, according to the United States Geological Survey, but there was no tsunami alert and no immediate report of damage or injuries.

The powerful quake, at a depth of 135 kilometers (84 miles), hit at approximately 5:19 am (0819 GMT) with an epicenter about 67 kilometers southeast of the San Pedro de Atacama tourist zone, US seismologists said.

Chile’s National Office of Emergency said the ‘medium-intensity’ quake was felt in the northern regions of Tarapaca, Antofagasta and Atacama.

Chile lies on what is known as the ‘Ring of Fire’ – an arc of fault lines that circles the Pacific Basin and is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

The north of the country was struck by an 8.3 temblor followed by a tsunami in September 2015, killing 15 people. A coastal evacuation order had limited the number of casualties.

In 2010 another quake measuring 8.8, also followed by a tsunami, struck the center and south of the country, killing more than 500 people.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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24 Dead In Suicide Car Bomber At Evacuating Buses In Syria: Report


Pictures in the aftermath of the explosion showed with bodies lying on the ground. (Reuters)

Beirut:  A suicide car bombing killed at least 24 people Saturday in an attack near buses for Syrians evacuated from two besieged government-held towns, a monitor said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack in Rashidin, west of Aleppo, targeted residents evacuated from the northern towns of Fuaa and Kafraya under a deal reached between the regime and rebels.

An AFP reporter in rebel-held Rashidin saw several bodies, body parts and blood scattered on the ground.

“The suicide bomber was driving a van supposedly carrying aid supplies and detonated near the buses,” the Observatory said.

It warned that the death toll was likely to rise given the “several dozen wounded” at the blast site.

State television said the car bombing had been carried out by “terrorist groups”, a term the regime applies to all armed opposition groups.

It was not immediately clear if rebels at the transit point were among the dead.

The attack took place as thousands of evacuees from the besieged government-held towns of Fuaa and Kafraya waited to continue their journey to regime-controlled Aleppo, the coastal province of Latakia, or Damascus. 

More than 5,000 people who had lived under crippling siege for more than two years left the two towns, along with 2,200 evacuated from rebel-held Madaya and Zabadani, on Friday.

They were headed for regime or rebel-held areas via government-held second city Aleppo.

Thousands of evacuees from Fuaa and Kafraya were stuck on the road in Rashidin when the bomb went off.

The evacuation, brokered by regime ally Iran and rebel backer Qatar, is set to see more than 30,000 people evacuated in two stages.

The deal had stipulated that in the first stage 8,000 people, leave the two towns but in the event just 5,000 left, the Britain-based Observatory said.

Evacuees were left stranded as differences emerged over the number of loyalist fighters leaving, a rebel source said, refusing to elaborate as “negotiations are under way.”

Thousands of evacuees from Madaya and Zabadani were also stuck in government-controlled Ramusa, south of Aleppo.

The deal to evacuate the towns was the latest in a string of such agreements, touted by the government as the best way to end the fighting. Rebels say they have been forced out by siege and bombardment.

The regime has retaken several key rebel strongholds including eastern Aleppo since a Russian military intervention in September 2015. 



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'We Are Giving A Bad Name To Our Country': Malala Yousafzai On Pakistan


Malala Yousafzai said people have forgotten the true meaning of religion and values.

New Delhi:  Pro-education activist Malala Yousafzai has condemned the murder of Pakistani student Mashal Khan and said that the terrorising incident has brought disgrace to Pakistan.

“Today I heard about the death of Mashal Khan. It is a very agonising incident… This incident alone has brought disgrace to our nation. I urge people to know your religion, values and culture. They have always professed peace and tolerance,” the youngest Nobel laureate said yesterday, in a video posted on Geo News and shared on social media.

“We complain of Islamophobia and say that other nations are disgracing us. No one is doing that. It is us who are giving a bad name to our country,” Ms Yousafzai further stated.

She also said that she spoke to Mashal Khan’s father, who gave her a message of peace.

The activist also said that people have forgotten the true meaning of religion and values.

“This wasn’t the funeral procession of just Mashal Khan, but the message of our religion, which is peace and tolerance. We have forgotten our values and are not representing our religion,” the activist said.

“Islam does not tell us to be impatient and intolerant,” Ms Yousafzai added.

Malala Yousafzai, who was shot at by Taliban terrorists for her pro-education advocacy, also urged institutions in Pakistan to condemn the incident. 

“I urge all political leaders and parties to stand up for peace and give justice to Mashal Khan. Do not stay silent,” she said, in the video message.

A mob beat Mashal Khan, a university student in Pakistan’s Mardan area, on Thursday after he was accused of posting blasphemous content on social media. A group of about 10 students attacked Khan, who was stripped naked and beaten with planks until his skull caved in as other students looked on, reported news agency Reuters.

Today, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed concern over the lynching incident. His daughter, Maryan Sharif, tweeted:
 

The incident was also criticised by other Pakistani politicians including opposition leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

(With inputs from Agencies)
 



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Bosses, Be Warned: Your Biggest Kiss-Up Could Be Your Biggest Backstabber


The study surveyed more than 3,800 senior managers – vice presidents and above (Representational)

One of the most widely held – if rarely practiced – ideas in management is that it’s important for chief executives to encourage different opinions from the people who work for them. To find the dissenting voices who won’t just try to flatter or praise, but remind leaders when they are wrong. Doing so, the thinking goes, will lead to better professional performance – stronger decision-making, fewer missteps and more innovative ideas.

But it could also have a personal upside for chief executives: They might have fewer backstabbing managers bad-mouthing them to the media.

A new study recently featured in the Harvard Business Review and published online in the management journal Administrative Science Quarterly examines the relationship between chief executives, the managers who work for them, and the psychology of flattery and resentment. The study found that top managers who engage in “ingratiating” behavior – complimenting their boss, repeatedly conforming or agreeing with their views – were significantly more likely to admit to making negative comments about their CEO to journalists.

“People find it, at some level, demeaning to engage in ingratiation,” said Jim Westphal, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, in an interview. “That triggers a feeling of resentment. People mis-attribute their own behavior to another person.”

The study surveyed more than 3,800 senior managers – vice presidents and above – as well as their chief executives at public companies with at least $50 million in annual sales over a period of three years. Westphal and his co-authors, Michigan PhD student Gareth Keeves and University of Texas at San Antonio professor Michael L. McDonald, asked the top managers about their interactions with the chief executive, how often they agreed with their boss or made flattering comments to him, as well as open-ended questions about the kinds of remarks they had made in conversations with journalists about their chief executive, on or off the record. The chief executives were also asked about how often their managers in the study complimented them or agreed with their views.

Their hypothesis – that more flattery would lead to greater bitterness and, therefore, more carping about their chief executive to third parties – turned out to be true. Writing in HBR, the researchers said the size of the effect was “large,” and that an increase in compliments to the chief executive was associated with an increase in resentment. In addition, higher levels of indignation were linked with more reported swipes at the chief executive when they were talking with reporters. A two-point increase in resentment, they wrote, was linked with about a doubling in the amount of criticism.

The researchers did not look for nasty on-the-record quotes from the managers about their bosses in subsequent news articles – something that doesn’t happen often in the carefully controlled world of corporate communications – and Westphal acknowledges it’s possible managers mis-recalled some of what they said to reporters. But the researchers did look at the overall tone and tenor of articles in subsequent months and had coders examine each sentence for negative commentary about the chief executive. After doing so, they found that, indeed, the coverage tended to be more negative about chief executives who managers said they had bad-mouthed.

One unsettling finding: Though the effect was seen across chief executives, the researchers showed that female or racial minority chief executives were particular targets of resentment from white male managers who worked for them. Westphal and his colleagues found that white men whose boss was a woman or racial minority were more likely to dump on her or him with a journalist.

“There’s a sense that the flattery and ingratiation is perhaps less deserved than its would be toward a similar other,” Westphal said.

Of course, “dump on” in a world of euphemistic corporate-speak is relative – the researchers interviewed journalists to come up with what might be considered negative commentary and came up with three categories. One was faint praise, given with qualifiers (“the CEO had a fairly good idea of how to approach the acquisition”); another was indirect negativity (pointing out that credit should be given to other management team members or the board); and finally, the least frequent comments – direct complaints (for instance, “the CEO made a mistake” on that decision).

Westphal said the research should be a reminder that although flattery and agreeable subordinates might make life easier – or feel good to hear – there is also a downside. It’s up to the chief executive to cultivate more dissenting views and create an environment where it’s okay to knock him or her, not only for the benefit of the organization but also for themselves.

Asked whether the finding might be replicated in less elite settings, where the ambitions of top executives aren’t as present, Westphal thought they would. While there may be more egos at the top, workers lower on the corporate ladder who already hold a grudge for their position may feel even more resentful if they’re expected to engage in flattery. “My hunch is this applies very broadly,” he said.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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Some In Afghanistan Question US Choice To Use 22,000-Pound Bomb


Kabul, Afghanistan:  U.S. forces in Afghanistan had not yet assessed the impact Friday of a massive strike on Islamic State militants in the eastern part of the country, a military spokesman said, raising questions about the already controversial decision to deploy a 22,000-pound bomb on the battlefield.

The Afghan Defense Ministry said three dozen fighters were killed in the attack, which used one of the largest non-nuclear bombs in the U.S. arsenal, the GBU-43, against a network of tunnels and bunkers in the east.

A Pentagon spokesman said its forces would not release an official statement on potential damage or casualties incurred from the strike, which was carried out in the Achin district of Nangahar province Thursday night.

It was unclear why the Afghan government released casualty figures but U.S. forces did not. For its part, the Islamic State-linked Amaq News Agency denied that the bombing caused casualties among the militants, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors online postings from extremist groups and others. The Islamic State offered no evidence to support its claim.

In Kabul, Navy Capt. Bill Salvin, spokesman for U.S. forces, said: “We are still conducting our assessment, and at this time have no evidence of civilian casualties as a result of the GBU-43 drop.”

Also Friday, Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, defended the strike as “the right weapon against the right target,” and said it “achieved its intended purpose,” which was to remove the tunnel complex as an obstacle to U.S. and Afghan forces on the battlefield.

U.S. and Afghan troops went on the offensive against the local Islamic State branch in March, even as they continue to battle a Taliban insurgency in the rest of the country. U.S. and Afghan officials have said their goal is to “eliminate” the Islamic State from Afghanistan this year, but the Trump administration has not yet said if it plans to commit more troops to the fight. After 16 years of war, the United States and NATO have struggled with how to wind down the conflict here.

But the Islamic State affiliate, which is based in Nangahar, emerged only recently, in the wake of the group declaring a caliphate in Iraq and Syria in 2014. Since then, it has staged deadly attacks on Afghan civilians, particularly in Kabul, but has largely failed to break out of its stronghold in the east. There, the group uses the proximity to Pakistan, which is also plagued by militancy, to build up weapons stockpiles and connect with other jihadists across the border. According to Nicholson, the group, known as Khorasan Province, is made up mostly of Pakistani and Uzbek militants, along with some Afghan fighters who defected from the Taliban.

In Achin and other nearby districts, the Islamic State has terrorized residents, beheading tribal elders, assassinating security officials and closing schools. Even local Taliban commanders fought with the group.

Many of the district’s roughly 100,000 residents had already fled, leaving few civilians in the area where the strike took place. No civilians were reported killed, according to U.S. and Afghan officials. Still, some residents and those in neighboring districts described widespread damage and hearing the blast miles away.

“It was a powerful bomb; we felt it several kilometers away,” said Khair Mohammad Safi, police chief of the Achin district where the strike took place. Safi, who operates from a neighboring district for security reasons, said he could see flames from the explosion.

“The wave caused by [the blast] was strong. There was a huge fire,” he said. “This was the [Islamic State’s] main stronghold. They were annihilated. We needed such a bomb for this place.”

But just this month, U.S. forces announced that they had nearly decimated the group, claiming to have reduced Islamic State-controlled territory in Afghanistan by two-thirds. The military also said it had killed about half of Khorasan Province’s fighters, and carried out hundreds of airstrikes on the group’s positions this year alone.

Last week, Army Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar, 37, was killed in Achin by small-arms fire during a combat operation.

“The use of drones turned out to be very effective against Daesh” in Nangahar, said Aryan Youn, a lawmaker from the province, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “If that was the case, why did the United States want to use such a sophisticated and powerful bomb?”

Local residents, she said, are worried about the impact of the explosion on their health and farmland. Achin is a heavily agricultural district, where farmers grow wheat, cotton and, intermittently, the poppy crop that is used to make opium.

In a statement Friday, the Taliban also condemned the strike, which it called a “show” by U.S. forces who want to convince the world they are taking a strong stance against the Islamic State.

The United States had “no justification” for using such a powerful bomb during combat, said the statement, which was distributed on the instant messaging app Viber.

Taliban fighters have been engaged in a years-long insurgency against the government and international forces in Afghanistan.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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Rather Than Rebellious, Melania Trump Shaping Up To Be A Retro First Lady


Melania Trump’s first act as first lady suggested she might play the rebel.

When she announced that she would not move to the White House right away – and instead remained in her New York penthouse with her young son while her husband began rolling out controversial executive orders in Washington – she flouted the most basic of all first lady traditions.

Now, after weeks of shirking the spotlight, Trump has begun to emerge from her cocoon, taking tentative steps to establish herself in her new role. In her first public events and statements, Trump has hewed surprisingly close to the historical expectations of first ladies.

Rather than rebellious, she is shaping up to be retro.

“As people get to know her, [they will see] she has been so focused on tradition and family and children,” said Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s spokeswoman.

Earlier this month, Trump released her official portrait, a signal that she would be ramping up her official duties. The portrait echoed in style and aesthetic the official photographs of two of her Republican predecessors. She stood in front of an ornate window in the White House, as did Nancy Reagan, and wore a black blazer and folded her arms as did Laura Bush.

Two days later, Trump hosted Jordan’s Queen Rania for the most conventional of first lady activities – a tour of an all-girls public charter school that included a stop in a visual arts class. “Beautiful,” Trump said softly, while looking at a painting by one of the students. Last week, she took Peng Liyuan, the wife of the visiting Chinese president, to tour a middle school in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Her conventional approach is in line with her personality and style, said an associate who has known the family for years but was not authorized by the Trumps to speak the press.

“She is steeped in Eastern European history,” the associate said. “You can’t grow up in her region without being that way, and Mrs. Trump has a high appreciation for the thread of history and its passing from generation to generation, administration to administration and empire to empire.”

Trump’s ceremonial role as the nation’s hostess will take center stage Monday when she hosts her largest event yet at the White House. The annual Easter Egg Roll, which had grown into a carnival-like celebration of healthy eating and exercise under Michelle Obama, will shrink in the Trump era.

“This year being our first, we’ve chosen to focus on the historic aspect of the Easter Egg Roll,” said Grisham. She said the first lady was concerned that the event had grown too large – 35,000 attendees last year – creating long waits for some activities.

The scaled-back event – the White House won’t say how many are expected, but noted that only 18,000 souvenir eggs will be given away – will recall an era when the biggest star in attendance was the Easter Bunny, who first appeared in 1969 when a member of Pat Nixon’s staff wore the furry costume. During the Obama years, the Easter Egg Roll drew performances by Justin Bieber and Idina Menzel, clinics by sports pros and presentations by celebrity chefs. This year the only announced performers are little-known bands Bro4 and Martin Family Circus.

This pivot away from pop culture is a safe tack for the new first lady, who has been acquainting herself with the way things have historically been done at the White House.

While she has spent relatively little time in Washington, she has borrowed books from the White House Historical Association’s archives, which describe the antiques and traditions of the executive mansion, said Anita McBride, who served as chief of staff to Laura Bush and sits on the association’s board.

“She is very interested in past practice and in precedent, and that gives you context for where you can do things your way and you make your mark,” McBride said. “She has a respect and reverence for the White House and its traditions and the opportunities that she has to follow in the footsteps of her predecessors even without residing there.”

Even still, Trump’s moves to follow her predecessors have all been tentative and excruciatingly slow to some onlookers.

“She is embracing the ceremonial aspects of the role but we have not seen any advocacy,” said Myra Gutin, a professor of communication at Rider University and author who has studied first ladies.

Trump said during the campaign she would like to lead an initiative to combat cyberbullying, but has not yet taken any public steps in that direction. She has a small staff in place at the White House, and associates say she is building a rapport with them while moving cautiously to establish herself. She is keen to avoid any big mistakes particularly after the embarrassment she suffered following a prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention that she later acknowledged contained lines plagiarized from Michelle Obama.

“She is going to try to take time to do things right,” Grisham said, explaining the pace of the first lady’s activity. “The fact that it takes time to do it right doesn’t faze her at all.”

Initially, the first lady relied heavily on her friend and senior adviser Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a fashion industry event planner who helped organize President Trump’s inauguration but had no experience in the White House or in politics. Trump has since added several experienced Republicans to her team, including a chief of staff, social secretary and director of the White House visitor’s office – all key to planning events at the executive mansion.

As the first lady’s team works to put the Easter Egg Roll together, they are getting to know Trump, who has popped into Washington to host a luncheon celebrating Women’s History Month, held a reception for senators with her husband and helped hand out awards celebrating women at the State Department.

The public glare still seems challenging for the first lady, who is said to cherish her privacy. At the awards ceremony, Trump read from a teleprompter and seemed uncomfortable behind the microphone, but warmly embraced the awardees, looking visibly relaxed when her speech was over.

Trump also seemed especially at ease during the visit with Queen Rania, a woman who also had to adjust to life as a high-profile spouse. The Jordanian queen, now 46, once described in an interview with Oprah Winfrey the steep learning curve she faced upon her coronation. “You grow into the role,” she said. “You take it by your stride.”

During their visit to the Excel Academy Charter School in Washington, the two women had a roundtable with school officials, parents and students. As cameras broadcast their meeting to the world, Queen Rania asked question after question. Trump sat silently at the center of the table, watching her.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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'Mashal Khan Was Intellectually Curious', Say His Teachers, Friends


Mashal Khan was dragged from his room and beaten to death, police said.

Mardan:  The ransacked university hostel room of murdered Pakistani student Mashal Khan has posters of Karl Marx and Che Guevara still hanging on the walls, along with scribbled quotes including one that reads: “Be curious, crazy and mad.”The day before, a heated debate over religion with fellow students broke out at the dorm and led to people accusing Khan of blasphemy. That attracted a crowd that grew to several hundred people, according to witnesses.

The mob kicked in the door, dragged Khan from his room and beat him to death, witnesses and police said.

The death in the northwestern city of Mardan is the latest violence linked to accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan.

Those who knew Khan described him as an intellectually curious student who openly professed devotion to Islam but asked many questions.

“Whatever he had to say, he would say it openly, but he didn’t understand the environment he was living in,” said one of Khan’s teachers at Abdul Wali Khan University, who declined to be named for fear of retribution.

Crimes related to blasphemy are a serious offence in Pakistan, and penalties range from small fines to the death sentence.

At least 65 people have been murdered over blasphemy allegations since 1990, according to figures from a Center for Research and Security Studies report and local media, and dozens more convicted of the crime are currently on death row in Pakistani jails.

The Pakistani government has yet to comment publicly on Khan’s killing.

In March, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif issued an order for the removal of blasphemous content online, and said anyone who posted such content should face “strict punishment under the law”.

Police say they have arrested 20 suspects involved in Khan’s murder and have found no evidence to substantiate blasphemy allegations.

IMAM REFUSES LAST RIGHTS

Rehman, the caretaker, said Khan was alive when the police arrived, but that they did not approach the hostel until it was too late.

“They could have easily saved his life but they stood away from the mob … I heard one officer say it’s good that they sent this non-believer to hell,” he said.

Mardan police chief Mohammad Alam Shinwari denied the allegation that officers did not do enough to save Khan.

“When we entered the campus, he had already been killed and the mob was trying to burn his body,” he said.

In Khan’s home town of Swabi, around 60 km south of Mardan, his father, Iqbal Shaer, said the accusations of blasphemy were unfounded.

“First they killed my son and now they are adding salt to our wounds,” he told Reuters.

Shaer, who runs a small business selling biscuits and chocolates to local retailers, said he had always been a lover of poetry and literature and encouraged his children to express themselves and appreciate the arts.

He added: “My wife told me this morning that she spent her life taking care of her son, but those who killed him have wasted that long struggle.”

At Khan’s funeral, the imam at the local mosque refused to read the last rights, according to Swabi resident Salman Ahmed. A technician who was asked to do so in the cleric’s place was confronted by several people afterwards.

Khan has since been buried.

© Thomson Reuters 2017



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EU Lawmakers Might Summon Marine Le Pen Over Alleged Misuse Of Funds


European parliament has already sanctioned Marine Le Pen for misusing EU funds. (Reuters)

Brussels:  European Union lawmakers could summon French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen to discuss the lifting of her immunity over the alleged misuse of European Union money, before the second round of the French election, an influential legislator said on Saturday.

French judges have asked the European parliament to lift the immunity of the National Front leader, who is a member of the EU legislature, to permit further investigations over alleged misuse of funds to pay for party assistants.

“The legal affairs committee has agreed that Le Pen will be summoned for a hearing on the first possible date in May,” Laura Ferrara, the deputy chair of the committee, told Reuters.

She said the hearing could take place in the first week of May, before the May 7 runoff in the French election, which polls show Ms Le Pen is likely to reach.

Ms Le Pen has denounced legal proceedings against her as political interference.

Opinion polls have put Ms Le Pen in first or second place in the first round of voting on April 23, although her three main rivals are now close enough for any two of the four to go through to the runoff.

Polls show Ms Le Pen is not likely to win the runoff.

Ms Ferrara, who is a member of the Italian eurosceptic 5 Star Movement, said that Ms Le Pen may decide not to appear before the parliamentary committee.

The European parliament has already sanctioned Ms Le Pen for misusing EU funds. Since February her monthly salary as EU lawmaker has been cut by half to around 3,000 euros and other allowances have been withdrawn. The French investigation is aimed at establishing whether other sanctions are warranted.

The EU legislature lifted Ms Le Pen’s immunity in March to allow a separate French investigation over her posting of pictures of ISIS violence on social media, an offence that in France can carry a penalty of three years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros ($79,567).

Before deciding to lift the immunity of a lawmaker, the EU parliament’s legal affairs committee usually arranges a hearing with the accused legislator. The actual decision follows a few months later.

In the majority of cases, the immunity has been lifted.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio, Editing by Andrew Bolton)

© Thomson Reuters 2017



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25 Killed As Flood Washes Northwestern Iran


“25 people have been killed in the floods across four provinces”, as per authorities. (Representational)

Tehran:  At least 25 people were killed and 16 declared missing as flash floods hit northwestern Iran, state media reported on Saturday. “Twenty-five people have been killed in the floods across four provinces,” the head of Iran’s emergency response organisation, Esmail Najar, told the ISNA news agency.

Torrential rains that began on Friday lashed East Azerbaijan province, with state television showing images of rivers bursting their banks, flooded houses and cars being swept away by the surging water.

The districts of Ajabshir and Azarshahr were the worst hit.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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Pope Francis Good Friday Message: Shames For Catholic Church And Humanity


At the end, Pope read a prayer he wrote that was woven around the theme of shame and hope.

Rome:  Pope Francis, presiding at a Good Friday service, asked God for forgiveness for scandals in the Catholic Church and for the ‘shame’ of humanity becoming inured to daily scenes of bombed cities and drowning migrants.

Pope Francis presided at a traditional candlelight Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) service at Rome’s Colosseum attended by some 20,000 people and protected by heavy security following recent attacks in European cities.

Pope sat while a large wooden cross was carried in procession, stopping 14 times to mark events in the last hours of Jesus’ life from being sentenced to death to his burial.

Similar services, known as the Stations of the Cross, were taking place in cities around the world as Christians gathered to commemorate Jesus’ death by crucifixion.

At the end of the two-hour service, Pope read a prayer he wrote that was woven around the theme of shame and hope.

In what appeared to be a reference to the Church’s sexual abuse scandal, he spoke of “shame for all the times that we bishops, priests, brothers and nuns scandalised and wounded your body, the Church.”

The Catholic Church has been struggling for nearly two decades to put the scandal of sexual abuse of children by clergy behind it. Critics say more must be done to punish bishops who covered up abuse or were negligent in preventing it.

Pope also spoke of the shame he said should be felt over “the daily spilling of the innocent blood of women, of children, of immigrants” and for the fate of those who are persecuted because of their race, social status or religious beliefs.

At the end of this month Francis travels to Egypt, which has seen a spate of attacks by terrorists on minority Coptic Christians. Dozens were killed in two attacks last Sunday.

He spoke of “shame for all the scenes of devastation, destruction and drownings that have become ordinary in our lives.”

On the day he spoke, more than 2,000 migrants trying to reach Europe were plucked from the Mediterranean in a series of dramatic rescues and one person was found dead. More than 650 have died or are unaccounted for while trying to cross the sea in rubber dinghies this year.

Pope Francis expressed the hope “that good will triumph despite its apparent defeat.”

Security was stepped up in the area around the Colosseum following recent truck attacks against pedestrians in London and Stockholm. Some 3,000 police guarded the area and checked people as they approached. The Colosseum subway stop was closed.

Pope on Saturday is due to say an Easter vigil Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and on Easter Sunday, the most important day in the Christian liturgical calendar, he reads his twice-annual “Urbi et Orbi” (“To the City and the World”) message in St. Peter’s Square.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella, Editing by Bill Trott)

© Thomson Reuters 2017



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Gunmen Shot Down Veteran Journalist Maximino Palacios In Mexico


Maximino R Palacios ‘was shot and killed’ outside a store as he arrived in his car. (Representational)

Mexico City:  Gunmen shot dead a veteran crime reporter in northeastern Mexico on Friday, his employers said, becoming the fourth journalist to be murdered in the gang-plagued country in six weeks.

Maximino Rodriguez Palacios ‘was shot and killed’ outside a store as he arrived in his car at around noon (1700 GMT) with his wife who uses a wheelchair, the Colectivo Pericu news website said.

His wife was unharmed.

The state prosecutor’s office confirmed the 71-year-old’s murder ‘from gunshot wounds’, adding that investigators have obtained shell casings that will be analyzed in a lab.

Unknown attackers appeared to have used high-powered rifles in the attack, the website said.

According to early reports, the shooting occurred as Rodriguez was parking in a disabled parking spot and requested a wheelchair for his wife.

“Colectivo Pericu rejects this attack against a comrade,” said a statement on the website.

“We demand that the authorities clarify this and many other crimes that continue to go unpunished and have left families shattered by pain.”

With its ruthless drug cartels, Mexico ranks third in the world for the number of journalists killed, after Syria and Afghanistan, according to media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

During his long career as a reporter and columnist, Rodriguez made “very strong, very critical” statements, RSF’s Mexico representative Balbina Flores told AFP.

Three other journalists covering organized crime in Mexico have been killed since March 3 – in Chihuahua, Guerrero and Veracruz states, according to officials and media groups.



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Indian Man Commits 'Suicide' In Sharjah


The body was found hanging in his room when police and forensic officers arrived at the apartment.

Sharjah:  A 52-year-old Indian man allegedly committed suicide in Sharjah by hanging himself in his room in his family apartment, a media report said.

Police said they received a call at 11.30 p.m. (local time) about the incident, the Khaleej Times reported on Friday. 

Officials said the man was identified as S.M. 

The body was found hanging in his room when police and forensic officers arrived at the apartment.

According to the officials the man died at 8 p.m. His family members were unaware of the incident and they thought he was sleeping.

The body was taken to a forensic laboratory for investigation to determine the exact cause of the death, said officials. 

The police were questioning the family members along with others who lived in the same two-bedroom apartment.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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Sri Lanka Rubbish Dump: Number Of Deaths Rise To 11


Young boys and girls aged b/w 11 and 15 were among the confirmed killed following incident. (File Photo)

Colombo:  The death toll from a collapsed garbage mountain in Sri Lanka’s capital rose to 11 Saturday, officials said, with the disaster destroying 145 homes.

Colombo National hospital spokeswoman Pushpa Soysa said two boys and two girls were among the 11 confirmed killed following the Friday incident. They were aged between 11 and 15.

Soysa said a total of 21 people were brought to the hospital from Kolonnawa, where the 300-foot (91-metre) high rubbish dump crashed on homes.

“We remain on standby, some people who were pulled out of wrecked homes were brought in overnight,” she told AFP. “Five of them have succumbed to their injuries.”

Hundreds of troops dug through tonnes of rubbish looking for survivors while two heavy earth moving machines were also deployed.

Police said a total of 145 homes, mostly shacks, were destroyed when a side of the garbage mountain came crashing down on Friday following heavy rain the previous day and a fire hours earlier.

Police said 625 people were given temporary shelter at a government-run school in the area as authorities looked for alternative accommodation for those living near the dump.

Many residents had evacuated their homes before the disaster because of the heavy rain.

“The casualties would have been much higher if most people had not left their homes earlier in the day,” a disaster management official told reporters at the site.

About 800 tonnes of solid waste is added daily to the open dump, angering residents who live nearby.

Sri Lanka’s parliament was warned recently that the 23 million tonnes of garbage rotting at Kolonnawa was a serious health hazard.

Efforts are under way to build an electricity plant that could transform the solid waste into fuel.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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China Foreign Minister Calls Russian Counterpart To 'Cool' N.Korea Row


Wang Yi said the common goal was to ‘bring all the parties back to the negotiating table’.

Beijing:  China is seeking Russia’s help to cool surging tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, the country’s foreign minister has told his Moscow counterpart, after Beijing warned of possible conflict over North Korea.

Fears over the North’s rogue weapons programme have soared in recent days, with a US naval strike force deployed near the Korean peninsula, while President Donald Trump has warned the threat ‘will be taken care of’ and Pyongyang has vowed a ‘merciless’ response to any provocation.

China, the North’s sole major ally and economic lifeline, on Friday warned that war over North Korea could break out ‘at any moment’.

In a call with Sergei Lavrov later Friday, Wang Yi said the common goal of the two nations was to ‘bring all the parties back to the negotiating table’, according to a statement on China’s Foreign Ministry website.

“China is ready to coordinate closely with Russia to help cool down as quickly as possible the situation on the peninsula and encourage the parties concerned to resume dialogue,” Mr Wang told Mr Lavrov, referring to the stalled six-party talks on the North’s nuclear programme that includes Russia, China and the United States.

“Preventing war and chaos on the peninsula meets common interests,” he added.

Beijing has long opposed dramatic action against the North, fearing the regime’s collapse would send a flood of refugees across its borders and leave the US military on its doorstep.

Mr Trump insists that China must exert more leverage on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions or suffer the consequences.

Pyongyang is already under several sets of UN sanctions over its atomic and ballistic missile programmes.



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Amid Tensions With US, North Korea Shows Off New Missiles In Huge Parade


Tokyo:  North Korea put on a huge military spectacle Saturday to celebrate its founder’s birthday, parading its series of new and technologically advanced missiles in front of Kim Jong Un, and in a defiant show of force in front of the world.

North Korea did not, however, carry out another nuclear test or ballistic missile launch, against widespread speculation that it would seek to celebrate Kim Il Sung’s 105th birthday with a bang.
April 15 is the most important day in the North Korean calendar, and Kim Jong Un has celebrated his grandfather’s birthday with great fanfare as a way to boost his own legitimacy as the successor to the communist dynasty.

North Korea presented two of its newest missiles at the parade in Kim Il Sung Square on Saturday, including the submarine-launched ballistic missile it successfully fired last year and the land-based version it launched last month.

“And there were a lot of them,” said Melissa Hanham, an expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in California.
“The signal that they’re trying to send is that they are moving ahead with solid-fuel missiles,” she said.

North Korea has been working on solid fuel, which means missiles are ready to fire and don’t need loading with propellant like its previous liquid-fuel missiles, as a way to fire missiles quickly and without detection by satellites.

It did not show off the KN-08 and KN-11 intercontinental ballistic missiles it had included in previous parades, the long-range rockets with the technical ability to reach the mainland United States that it is developing. But it instead put fuel canisters on the trucks that had carried the ICBMs previously, suggesting they wanted to reinforce the message that it can not fuel these longer-range missiles.

The parade took place amid stern warnings from the outside world, and mounting fears about some kind of military action in the region.
The United States has sent an aircraft carrier strike group to the Korean Peninsula region, and Trump has repeatedly tweeted that if China will not use its leverage to rein in North Korea, the United States will act.

Vice President Mike Pence arrives in Seoul on Sunday on the first leg of an Asia tour, and he will doubtless underscore Washington’s strong alliances with South Korea and Japan and their determination to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

North Korea presented two of its newest missiles at the parade in Kim Il Sung Square (Reuters)
 

China on Friday urged the United States and North Korea not to push their recriminations to a point of no return and allow war to break out on the Korean Peninsula.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi said “storm clouds” were gathering, an apparent reference to North Korean preparations to conduct a new nuclear test and the United States’ deployment of a naval strike force to the waters off the peninsula. In addition, the U.S. military has been conducting large-scale exercises with South Korean forces, drills that the North considers provocative.

“The United States and South Korea and North Korea are engaging in tit for tat, with swords drawn and bows bent,” Wang said at a news conference after meeting with visiting French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Xinhua reported. “We urge all parties to refrain from inflammatory or threatening statements or deeds to prevent irreversible damage to the situation on the Korean Peninsula.”

Later Friday, Wang called his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and said it was in both countries’ interests to stop war breaking out. “China welcomes close collaboration with Russia to cool down the Korean Peninsula situation as quickly as possible and encourage the involved parties to resume dialogue,” he said, according to China’s foreign ministry.

Separately, China’s Global Times newspaper said the U.S. decision to drop “the mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan this week would have sent a “shock wave” all the way to North Korea but might send the wrong signal to Kim Jong Un – that without nuclear weapons he would suffer the same fate as Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.

“It would be nice if the bomb could frighten Pyongyang but its actual impact may just be the opposite,” the paper said. 

Trump administration officials describe the situation as more dangerous than in the past, because of the progress North Korea has made in its nuclear and missile programs and because of the hostility on both sides. But U.S. officials said no decision has been made about how to respond to any new test – nuclear or ballistic – by North Korea.

While officials do not rule out other actions, they also stress their desire to ensure that the situation does not escalate out of control. Pentagon officials denied recent media reports that the Trump administration is ready to launch a preemptive strike if North Korea appears to be about to conduct a nuclear test.

North Korea Friday accused President Donald Trump of “making trouble” with his “aggressive” tweets, amid concerns that tensions between the two countries could escalate into military action.

North Korea’s vice foreign minister said that Trump was “becoming more vicious and more aggressive” than previous presidents, which was only making matters worse.

“Trump is always making provocations with his aggressive words,” Han Song Ryol told the Associated Press in an interview in Pyongyang. “So that’s why. It’s not the DPRK but the U.S. and Trump that makes trouble,” he said, using the abbreviation for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as North Korea is officially known.

Han also repeated the regime’s common refrain that North Korea is ready to act to defend itself.

“We’ve got a powerful nuclear deterrent already in our hands, and we certainly will not keep our arms crossed in the face of a U.S. preemptive strike,” Han told the AP.

His message chimed with a statement Friday from North Korea’s Institute for Disarmament and Peace that it was the United States pushing the Korean Peninsula, “the world’s biggest hotspot,” to the brink of war by bringing back a naval strike group.

“This has created a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out any moment on the peninsula and pose a serious threat to the world’s peace and security,” the statement said.

North Korea has a habit of fueling tensions to increase the rewards it might extract from the outside world if it desists. Previously, the North has agreed to return to denuclearization talks in return for aid or the easing of sanctions.

The North Korean army meanwhile threatened to annihilate U.S. military bases in South Korea and the presidential palace in Seoul in response to what it called Trump’s “maniacal military provocations.”

With his approach, Trump is tearing up the old playbook of how to deal with North Korea, analysts said.

“This approach to North Korea is relatively new,” said James Kim of the Asan Institute of Policy Studies in Seoul. “The approach in the past has been very calculated.”

That has gone out the window with talk about military options, he said. “We always knew all these options were there, but no one was bold enough to go down that path. It’s a new approach.”
Some in Beijing are noticing the shift, too.

“It should be noted that there is a personality difference between Trump and Obama,” the Global Times newspaper wrote Friday. The paper does not speak for the Chinese government on policy but often reflects a strain of thinking within the Communist Party.

“Trump is also willing to show he is different. Bombing Syria helps him to show that,” it continued, while noting that he was far from “revolutionary” because he dispatched only missiles, not troops.

But North Korea could prove different if it ignores Trump’s warning and conducts another nuclear test, the paper said. “Trump just took the office; if he loses to Pyongyang, he would feel like he had lost some prestige.”

Right now, Trump has some cards to play, said Kim of the Asan Institute.

“He might say: ‘If you want one less battleship in the region, what are you going to give me?’ ” he said – a reversal of the usual situation, in which North Korea asks what it can get from its adversaries in return for changing its behavior.

Trump’s tweets and his conversations with Chinese President Xi Jinping seem designed to push Beijing to crack down on North Korea, and there have been some indications that China is getting tougher on its errant neighbor.

China suspended coal imports from North Korea in mid-February – potentially cutting off an economic lifeline – and Chinese customs data released Thursday showed a 52 percent drop in imports in the first three months of this year, compared with the same period last year.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government is taking precautions of its own.

Its National Security Council has discussed how to evacuate the roughly 60,000 Japanese nationals living in South Korea and how to deal with a potential influx of North Koreans, according to multiple local reports. These plans include sifting out spies or soldiers who might be among the refugees.

The North Korean situation is getting more serious, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday. “We cannot turn away from this reality. The security environment surrounding Japan is getting tougher.”

(The Washington Post’s Denyer and Jin Xin in Beijing and William Branigin and Missy Ryan in Washington contributed to this report.)

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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Number Of ISIS Fighters Killed By US Bomb Jumps To 90: Afghan Officials


The US military dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb on an ISIS complex in Afghanistan.

Jalalabad, Afghanistan:  The number of Islamic State fighters killed by a massive US bomb in eastern Afghanistan has nearly tripled to at least 90, Afghan officials said Saturday.

The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb — dubbed the “Mother Of All Bombs” — was unleashed in combat for the first time, hitting ISIS positions in eastern Nangarhar province on Thursday.

The bomb smashed their mountain hideouts, a tunnel-and-cave complex that had been mined against conventional ground attacks, engulfing the remote area in towering flames.

“At least 92 Daesh (ISIS) fighters were killed in the bombing,” Achin district governor Esmail Shinwari told AFP on Saturday. Nangarhar provincial spokesman Attaullah Khogyani gave a toll of 90.

Afghan officials had earlier said the bombing had killed 36 ISIS fighters.

Shinwari insisted there were “no military and civilian casualties at all”.

Security experts say ISIS had built their redoubts close to civilian homes, but the government said thousands of local families had already fled the area in recent months of fighting.

The massive bomb was dropped after fighting intensified over the past week and US-backed ground forces struggled to advance on the area. An American special forces soldier was killed last Saturday in Nangarhar while conducting anti-ISIS operations.

President Ashraf Ghani threw his support behind the bombardment.

But some officials close to him condemned the use of Afghanistan as what they called a testing ground for the weapon, and against a militant group that controls only a tiny sliver of territory and is not considered a huge threat.

ISIS, notorious for its reign of terror in Syria and Iraq, has made inroads into Afghanistan in recent years, attracting disaffected members of the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban as well as Uzbek Islamists.

But the group has been steadily losing ground in the face of heavy pressure both from US air strikes and a ground offensive led by Afghan forces.



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United Changes Crew Booking Policy After Passenger Dragged Off Plane


United Airlines has introduced a new crew travel policy to avoid travellers being bumped off flights.

United Airlines said on Friday it is changing its policy on booking its own flight crews onto its planes after a man was dragged off an overbooked flight to make way for a United employee on Sunday, video of which went viral and made the airline the target of global criticism and ridicule.

The airline, owned by United Continental Holdings Inc, said it would make sure crews traveling on their aircraft are booked into seats at least 60 minutes before departure.

It said the new policy would ensure that a situation in which a passenger is forcibly removed from a plane does not occur again. United said the change is an initial step as it reviews policies in order to “deliver the best customer experience.”

The passenger ejected from the plane, David Dao, suffered a significant concussion, broken nose and lost two front teeth in the incident, and will need reconstructive surgery, according to his attorney, Thomas Demetrio, who has signaled that Dao will likely sue the airline.

United’s board said on Friday the company had to craft policies to win back customer trust and apologized to Dao and his family. It added that it stands behind Chief Executive Oscar Munoz, who has been under fire in the wake of the incident. Munoz has said he has no plans to resign.

Even before this week, Munoz was under pressure from activist investors to improve the airline’s performance, including its customer relations.

In an unrelated incident, a United passenger complained that a scorpion stung him during a flight from Texas, also on Sunday.

A physician on the ground assured the crew that “it was not a life-threatening matter,” United spokeswoman Maddie King said in an email on Friday, adding that the airline is “reaching out to the customer to apologize and discuss the matter.”

(Reporting by Sangameswaran S in Bengaluru; Editing by Bill Rigby)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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Industrial strategy 'must help' UK creative industries


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The creative sector is said to support 2.9m jobs in the UK

Creative companies are becoming increasingly important to the UK’s future economic success and should be at the heart of the government’s new industrial strategy, a trade body says.

The Creative Industries Federation says film-making, music, advertising and video games are all big export earners but are often overlooked by ministers.

It says enterprise zones, tax breaks and access to finance could help firms.

The business secretary says he was committed to a “deal” with the sector.

The role of the UK’s creative industries, which also includes theatre, architecture, broadcasting, fashion, museums, and galleries was recognised when the government unveiled its industrial strategy Green Paper in January for boosting the post-Brexit economy.

The Creative Industries Federation says ministers need to “overhaul” their approach.

The federation has unveiled a blueprint of policy recommendations for the creative industries which it says is “the fastest growing sector of the UK economy”.

It said the creative economy supports 2.9m jobs, a rise of 5.1% between 2014 and 2015.

Brexit means it is now “even more crucial” for the sector “to deliver more jobs, trade and exports”, it adds.

The federation’s chief executive, John Kampfner, said: “There has been a tendency to dismiss the creative industries as something lightweight while claiming the glory of billions of pounds in trade that comes from hits such as War Horse, Sherlock and Slumdog Millionaire.”

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He said the government should recognise that creative industries “will be as important to future economic success as traditional industries, such as cars or oil and gas”.

Among its other recommendations are campaigns to increase diversity in employment in the sector and advice for start-ups on exporting.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said creative industries contributed nearly £90bn to the economy in 2015.

He said TV producer Sir Peter Bazalgette is carrying out an independent review of how the sector “can help drive prosperity across the country by developing new technologies, capitalising on intellectual property rights and encouraging creativity from people of all ages and backgrounds”.

He added: “Through our industrial strategy I want to ensure we build on this sector’s strengths, which is why we have committed to an early sector deal for the industry in our green paper.”



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Trump To Scrap Obama Policy Of Voluntarily Revealing White House Visitors


Washington:  The Trump administration announced Friday that it would not follow President Barack Obama’s policy of voluntarily disclosing the names of most visitors to the White House complex, citing “grave national security risks and privacy concerns.”

The announcement, from an administration that has faced pointed questions about its commitment to transparency, marks a significant shift from the Obama White House, which released the names of nearly 6 million visitors, including scores of lobbyists.

Instead, President Donald Trump administration said it would release information under far more limited circumstances: When Freedom of Information Act requests are filed for those visiting offices of the White House classified under the law as separate agencies, such as the Office of Management and Budget.

Under the new policy, it will be up to the White House to decide whether to release the names of visitors coming to meet with the president, vice president and their senior staff, at least in the short term. Under a separate statute, much of that information can become public years after Trump leaves office.

Friday’s announcement was harshly criticized by an array of government watchdog groups.

“The only excuse for this policy is that the Trump administration has something to hide,” said David Donnelly, president and chief executive of Every Voice. “This kind of secrecy will allow big donors, lobbyists and special interests to have unknown levels of influence in the White House.”

“It’s the exact opposite of ‘draining the swamp,’ ” Donnelly added, referring to Trump’s pledge to usher in a more ethical and less corrupt era in Washington.

The Trump administration was sued in federal court earlier this week by a coalition of watchdog groups to compel the release of the White House visitor logs. Under Obama, such records, which were published on a White House-maintained Web page, were typically disclosed 90 to 120 days after the visit.

Since Trump took office in January, the page where the visitor logs had been publicly available has gone dark, and Trump administration officials said Friday that they will no longer maintain it, which the White House said would save taxpayers $70,000 by 2020.

After initial resistance, Obama’s policy was crafted in 2009 in response to earlier lawsuits by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, one of the groups now part of the new lawsuit against Trump.

The policy permitted some exceptions to disclosure, including private visits to the Obama family. The Obama White House also maintained the prerogative not to release records of particularly “sensitive” meetings, such as interviews with potential Supreme Court nominees.

Obama at times drew criticism for such carve-outs, as well as for other ways for skirting the agreement, including meetings between White House officials and lobbyists at a coffee shop near the White House that didn’t show up in the logs.

Trump aides highlighted such loopholes under Obama and said the new policy is consistent with a legal distinction that Obama officials drew in a 2012 lawsuit. Despite the voluntary disclosure of visitor logs, the Obama administration maintained that the logs were White House records and therefore not required to be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act.

Others have argued that the records are subject to disclosure under the FOIA because they are created by the Secret Service, which is an agency covered by the law.

As a private citizen, Trump was highly critical of the Obama administration’s position in 2012, writing on Twitter: “Why is @BarackObama spending millions to try and hide his records? He is the least transparent President – ever – and he ran on transparency.”

The existence of the visitor logs burst back into the news last month when House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., went to the White House grounds to review intelligence reports on which he later briefed the president. Both Nunes and White House officials initially declined to say whom Nunes had visited and who had cleared him onto the grounds, information that is typically contained in the logs, along with the length of the stay.

White House communications director Mike Dubke said Friday that the Trump administration has taken several steps to ensure the government “is both ethical and accessible to the American people.” Among those he mentioned were new restrictions on lobbyists and allowing journalists to participate remotely in White House briefings via Skype.

“Given the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, the White House Office will disclose Secret Service logs as outlined under the Freedom of Information Act, a position the Obama White House successfully defended in federal court,” Dubke said in a statement, referring to the 2102 lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch, a conservative organization.

Judicial Watch was among the organizations critical of Trump on Friday.

“This new secrecy policy undermines the rule of law and suggests this White House doesn’t want to be accountable to the American people,” the group’s president, Tom Fitton, said in a statement.

With the new policy, the White House officials made clear Friday that they believe Trump is under no legal obligation to disclose visitors to the complex. As a matter of practice, the White House has disclosed the names of many of those who meet directly with the president on the days the meetings take place. There has been very little disclosure of meetings with staff.

Some past and present government officials have argued that White House officials should be permitted to conduct meetings outside the public eye as a matter of policy.

“I tend to feel it’s the prerogative of the White House to have people come visit, and the public doesn’t need to know who they are,” Andrew Card Jr., chief of staff under President George W. Bush, said in an interview last week. “We don’t have a log on everybody who visits Congress, and they’re a coequal branch of government.”

Christina Reynolds, who served as director of media affairs under Obama, said Trump had made “the wrong call” but that it was somewhat understandable why he made the call he did. Despite being the first to open up the logs, the Obama administration was criticized for not going far enough and endured negative news stories about some of its visitors.

“If your only guide is whether you’re going to get bad stories, it’s more understandable,” Reynolds said, saying that the Trump White House may have decided to “take its lumps” Friday but be spared criticism based on what would later be disclosed in the logs.

In its criticism of Trump on Friday, American Civil Liberties Union, whose political director, Faiz Shakir, noted the timing of the announcement heading into Easter weekend.

“Elected officials work for the people and we deserve to see government business conducted in transparent daylight,” Shakir said. “This ‘Good Friday’ news dump is simply the latest in a series of efforts by President Trump to avoid public accountability, and it’s not the way to improve the people’s declining trust in this administration.”

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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China Urges US, North Korea To Step Back From Brink Of War


Tokyo:  China issued a stern warning Friday to the United States and North Korea, urging them not to push their recriminations to a point of no return and allow war to break out on the Korean Peninsula.

In comments carried by China’s official Xinhua news agency, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said “storm clouds” were gathering, an apparent reference to North Korean preparations to conduct a new nuclear test and the United States’ deployment of a naval strike force to the waters off the peninsula. In addition, the U.S. military has been conducting large-scale exercises with South Korean forces, drills that the North considers provocative.

“The United States and South Korea and North Korea are engaging in tit for tat, with swords drawn and bows bent,” Wang said at a news conference after meeting with visiting French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Xinhua reported. “We urge all parties to refrain from inflammatory or threatening statements or deeds to prevent irreversible damage to the situation on the Korean Peninsula.”

Trump administration officials describe the situation as more dangerous than in the past, both because of the progress North Korea has made in its nuclear and missile programs and because of the hostility on both sides. But U.S. officials said no decision has been made about how to respond to any new test – nuclear or ballistic – by North Korea.

In the event of either a nuclear or a missile test, the U.S. military is likely at a minimum to conduct a show of force, potentially repositioning American forces within South Korea, flying long-range bombers over the southern part of the peninsula or moving ships around in nearby waters.

While officials do not rule out other actions, they also stress their desire to ensure that the situation does not escalate out of control. Pentagon officials denied recent media reports that the Trump administration is ready to launch a preemptive strike if North Korea appears to be about to conduct a nuclear test.

On Friday, North Korea accused President Donald Trump of “making trouble” with his “aggressive” tweets, amid concerns that tensions between the two countries could escalate into military action.

And the North Korean army threatened to annihilate U.S. military bases in South Korea and the presidential palace in Seoul in response to what it called Trump’s “maniacal military provocations.”

Tensions have been steadily mounting in recent weeks as North Korea prepares for what it is calling a “big” event to mark the anniversary of its founder’s birthday Saturday, while the Trump administration warns that all options are on the table.

Expectations for a nuclear test or a missile launch in the lead-up to Saturday’s celebrations in Pyongyang have not come to pass. Instead, there are signs that the regime is getting ready to hold a huge parade this weekend, perhaps showing off new missiles – something that would qualify as the “big” event it has heralded.

Vice President Mike Pence arrives in Seoul on Sunday on the first leg of an Asia tour, and he will doubtless underscore Washington’s strong alliances with South Korea and Japan and their determination to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

The United States has sent an aircraft carrier strike group to the Korean Peninsula region, and Trump has repeatedly tweeted that if China will not use its leverage to rein in North Korea, the United States will act.

In his comments carried by Xinhua, Wang warned that “no one will win” if hostilities escalate. “It is not the one who espouses harsher rhetoric or raises a bigger fist that will win.” He also indicated that China is willing to broker a resumption of “dialogue,” whether “official or unofficial, through one channel or dual channels, bilateral or multilateral.”

North Korea’s vice foreign minister said that Trump was “becoming more vicious and more aggressive” than previous presidents, which was only making matters worse.

“Trump is always making provocations with his aggressive words,” Han Song Ryol told the Associated Press in an interview in Pyongyang. “So that’s why. It’s not the DPRK but the U.S. and Trump that makes trouble,” he said, using the abbreviation for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as North Korea is officially known.

Han also repeated the regime’s common refrain that North Korea is ready to act to defend itself.

“We’ve got a powerful nuclear deterrent already in our hands, and we certainly will not keep our arms crossed in the face of a U.S. preemptive strike,” Han told the AP.

As for when the next nuclear test would take place, “that is something that our headquarters decides,” he said.

His message chimed with a statement Friday from North Korea’s Institute for Disarmament and Peace that it was the United States pushing the Korean Peninsula, “the world’s biggest hotspot,” to the brink of war by bringing back a naval strike group.

“This has created a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out any moment on the peninsula and pose a serious threat to the world’s peace and security,” the statement said.

North Korea has a habit of fueling tensions to increase the rewards it might extract from the outside world if it desists. Previously, the North has agreed to return to denuclearization talks in return for aid or the easing of sanctions.

Trump is tearing up that old playbook, analysts said.

“This approach to North Korea is relatively new,” said James Kim of the Asan Institute of Policy Studies in Seoul. “The approach in the past has been very calculated.”

That has gone out the window with talk about military options, he said. “We always knew all these options were there, but no one was bold enough to go down that path. It’s a new approach.”

Some in Beijing are noticing the shift, too.

“It should be noted that there is a personality difference between Trump and Obama,” the Global Times newspaper wrote Friday. The paper does not speak for the Chinese government on policy but often reflects a strain of thinking within the Communist Party.

“Trump is also willing to show he is different. Bombing Syria helps him to show that,” it continued, while noting that he was far from “revolutionary” because he dispatched only missiles, not troops.

But North Korea could prove different if it calls Trump’s bluff and conducts another nuclear test, the paper said. “Trump just took the office; if he loses to Pyongyang, he would feel like he had lost some prestige.”

Right now, Trump has some cards to play, said Kim of the Asan Institute.

“He might say: ‘If you want one less battleship in the region, what are you going to give me?’ ” he said – a reversal of the usual situation, in which North Korea asks what it can get from its adversaries in return for changing its behavior.

Trump’s tweets and his conversations with Chinese President Xi Jinping seem designed to push Beijing to crack down on North Korea, and there have been some indications that China is getting tougher on its errant neighbor.

China suspended coal imports from North Korea in mid-February – potentially cutting off an economic lifeline – and Chinese customs data released Thursday showed a 52 percent drop in imports in the first three months of this year, compared with the same period last year.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government is taking precautions of its own.

Its National Security Council has discussed how to evacuate the roughly 60,000 Japanese nationals living in South Korea and how to deal with a potential influx of North Koreans, according to multiple local reports. These plans include sifting out spies or soldiers who might be among the refugees.

The North Korean situation is getting more serious, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday. “We cannot turn away from this reality. The security environment surrounding Japan is getting tougher.”

The Washington Post’s Simon Denyer and Jin Xin in Beijing and William Branigin and Missy Ryan in Washington contributed to this report.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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